Blue Ringed Octopus

Some of Australia’s deadly things are hideous. Some of Australia’s hideous things are totally safe. But this one is downright adorable. Too many bad cartoons have given us the impression that octopus are big creatures, but the vast majority of them are smaller than a grapefruit. The Blue Ringed Octopus is small even by actual octopus standards, rarely bigger than a golf ball.

The dominant feature of these guys is obviously going to be the blue rings. Bright, glowing, electric blue rings pulse and shimmer when the octopus is annoyed. Don’t annoy them.

The other interesting feature of these species is that they’re deadly hellspawn. Actually it’s been recently found that all octopus are at least a little venomous. But only the Blue Ringed variety get to put “deadly as all get out“ on their resume. When these octopuses bite they inject a venom filled saliva. Actually I should go back before I get emails - octopuses is correct, octopii is not. The word is not Latin, it’s Greek, so the rules are different. Anyway, these guys use a neurotoxin called tetradotoxin, the same nasty stuff that makes pufferfish a poor choice for a fly up. In both pufferfish and Blue-Ringed Octopus it’s not the animal that makes the poison, it’s bacteria the animal made a deal with.

I once read some detailed instructions in the care and keeping of the Blue-Ringed Octopus. It consisted of the word “Don’t”. It followed that up with further information: “Seriously. Don’t. You’ll die."

Oddly enough, the bite is painless. Then after a few minutes it stops all of the nerves working. Some of these nerves are actually quite useful, and in particular the ones related to breathing have been long regarded as favourites. Paralysis sets in, leaving the victim unable to move or breathe. This is a devastating problem if swimming, but let’s be honest, it’s not great on land either. Naturally, the affected person will remain completely conscious while their body shuts down and they suffocate to death. Because screw you.

There is no antivenom. Treatment involves assisting with breathing while the body breaks down the toxins over the course of 24 hours or more. A single octopus has enough venom on board to bite and kill 25 people. They are on the short list, among the 5 most deadly animals in Australia.

Hapalochlaena lunulata