Don’t let the beauty or size of the blue-ringed octopus fool you. The body of a tiny octopus is not much larger than a tennis ball, and may be the size of a coin. Despite the bright beautiful appearance, this octopus is extremely poisonous.
They are native to the Pacific, from Australia and Indonesia to the Philippines, Japan and South Korea. They live in coral reefs and water bodies, where they hide in crevices or shells. They usually eat small crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp and can live for about two years.
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The blue-ringed octopus is actually more than one species. There are two species that are known as blue-ringed octopuses: Hapalochlaena lunulata and Hapalochlaena maculosa. In addition, there are two other confirmed species that belong to the same genus, Hapalochlaena.
Dangerous poison octopus
In addition to their striking coloration, the blue-ringed octopus is best known for its highly toxic venom. Its venom is 1,000 times stronger than cyanide, and each octopus has enough venom to kill over 20 people in a matter of minutes.
The deadly venom is a powerful neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, similar to that of pufferfish. Although their bite can be highly toxic, blue-ringed octopuses are generally not dangerous to humans; they usually do not bite unless provoked.
So what happens if a person is bitten by all of them? The poison lasts from 12 to 48 hours, depending on the person’s weight and the amount of poison. The venom is a postsynaptic blocker, which means it blocks neurotransmitters, or nerve signals, in the body. This provokes the so-called “flaccid paralysis”, which, although it does not affect the heart, but affects the diaphragm, so the person stops breathing. This happens a few minutes after the bite.
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Other signs of flaccid paralysis may include nausea, blurred vision, or difficulty swallowing. The bad news is that there is no antidote, so emergency care is needed immediately.
“Because they are nocturnal, they are very shy. You really have to be tenacious to get bitten,” says Morse. “The poison is very potent, and there is no antidote. But if the bitten person can get life-saving procedures, they will be fine.”
The good news is that humans are only bitten a few times a year, and there are only three known deaths from blue-ringed octopus bites.
According to Morse, one of the mysteries of the blue-ringed octopus is how exactly it gets the poison and when. We know that octopuses do not produce poison themselves. Instead, it is produced by bacteria in their salivary glands. However, it is still unclear where these bacteria come from or how the poison is passed from parent to child, as even the larvae in the eggs produce the poison. But as long as they produce poison, they will remain one of the deadliest animals in the ocean.
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