Woman survives two bites from the most toxic animal on Earth

Originally published at: Woman survives two bites from the most toxic animal on Earth | Boing Boing


Woman survives two bits


Sounds like it was a close shave. And a haircut.



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Usually, it’s the other way around; you beating me to the punchline…


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Of course Australia, where everything wants to kill you.


Oh wow. TIL. I’d only ever heard of blue-ringed octopus bites along the top end of Australia, so I thought they were a tropical species. Nope, you find them all around Oz. Good to know.

In my first aid course, we covered these bites. Most unusual: the venom is a paralytic toxin that shuts down your heart and lungs, and decays in the body after about 45 minutes. The treatment is to perform CPR until the patient starts breathing on their own. Usually, you wouldn’t keep performing CPR for that long; this is a strange exception. To illustrate why this should be a team effort, we performed CPR on the dummy for 5 minutes straight. Exhausting.


Light on details…

Was it painful?
How painful?
How did she know she was bitten twice?
Were the bites far enough apart in time while this startled or angry octopus was sitting on her stomach, having bitten her once?
What happened to the octopus after it bit her?
What is the treatment for this type of venom?
If it is an anti-venom, how is it made, and where does it come from?
What is the mortality rate of bites from the creatures listed?


Regional language thing maybe… But bites surely. ‘bit’ is a singular thing as far as i’m aware.

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And “bites” is present tense. “Bit” is past tense and can refer to multiple bites.

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I was curious if the octopus was full-grown, thinking maybe a juvenile had less toxicity than an adult… the answer is “probably”, because they’re actually quite small even as adults. While looking that up, I found some answers to a few of your questions:

Bites are small and sometimes painless. The venom causes severe paralysis, leaving the victim unable to move or speak but conscious of what’s happening. Death is usually from suffocation as a result of the paralysis. There’s no antivenom, treatment is artificial respiration until the venom wears off on its own. I’m not sure about mortality rate- the number of people who have died from being bitten is small, possibly as few as 11, but I’m not sure how rare it is to be bitten in the first place.


And when she finally gets out of the hospital, she’s going to go hug a platypus because they’re so cute and harmless


In the case of the headline, “bits” is a plural noun, not a verb, and it should be “bites”. “Bite” is the singular. (Both words can also be verbs, of course, because English is weird.)


Rough-skinned news? Like… Associated Newspapers Limited?


Which bits did she survive?

Thank goodness it was only a blue-ringed octopus. From the headline I thought Alex Jones had bit someone.


I know a number of venomous animals can control how much venom they deliver in a bite. I wonder if the octopus just gave her a couple “love bites” that were extremely light on poison. It doesn’t sound like she was on a ventilator.

Looking it up, apparently there’s no antidote* and it sounds like the treatment (which is effective, if you get it in time) consists of machines to assist heart and lung function until the effects of the poison pass (e.g. a ventilator), but it doesn’t sound like that was involved in this case. Apparently fatalities are pretty rare, but it also seems like bites themselves are pretty rare as well. (Every bite case seems to be notable and only happening every few years.)

And no “anti-venom” - the poison itself is a tetrodotoxin produced by bacteria* that live in the octopus’ salivary glands (which is a bit odd, as I’ve read that all octopuses are venomous to some degree), but the nerve toxin suffuses the whole body, also making the animal poisonous not just to eat, but to the touch.

**The famously deadly fugu fish used in sushi and zombie poison has the same tetrodotoxin from bacteria as well, but as a result of eating things that contain the bacteria. (You can apparently buy fugu fish that are safe to eat that have simply been deprived of the bacteria in their diet.) A mild dose of the poison apparently causes a pleasant numbness and tingling - larger doses cause paralysis (stopping the heart and lungs), but that doesn’t seem to be painful.


I work with tetrodotoxin. It blocks all action potentials in all excitable cells – neurons, muscles, and heart. Death comes from cessation of heart and diaphragm. It is slowly flushed out, so survival is just a question of your heart and lungs continuing long enough. No way to stop it chemically.

The voltage-gated sodium channels that produce action potentials are as highly conserved across animals as any membrane protein, because a slight alteration is almost always fatal. Which is also why tetrodotoxin is fatal to all animals; it effects an extremely conserved mechanism. And also why I work with it; there is no chemical as effective at eliminating action potentials. That’s very useful in extremely controlled settings