The Poisons Collection Volume 2: Red Backed Beasts

The poisons collection

Hello, last time on my revamp of the poisons collection I spoke about blue frogs today we’re jumping to red spiders. This may not be the best blog for any arachnophobes  particularly if you’re Australian.

Today we’re going to be looking at the highly poisonous Redback Spider.

Latrodectus hasseltii close.jpg

Female Redback Spider. Photo Credit – Toby Hudson

Fact File

COMMON NAME: Redback Spider – red-striped spider – red-spot spider – jockey spider

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Latrodectus hasseltii

TYPE: Arachnid

DIET: Carnivore – main sources of prey are insects, small lizards and other spiders

GROUP NAME: cluster or clutter

AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: 

HABITAT: Widespread across Australia,  particularly common in Brisbane, Perth and Alice Springs. Often found in outside urban areas and webs are often built in sheds, outhouses and even in tyres. Webs are often in dry, dark and sheltered places.

SIZE: Females usually have a body length of about 10 millimetres (0.4 in), while the male is much smaller, being only 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in) long.

Toxicity

I will start off by saying that not all redback spider bites are venomous, if there web is disturbed they might start off by giving you a warning bit. Nevertheless if you think you’ve been bitten by a redback it is definitely best to go and get checked out.

However, venomous bites from redbacks can result in pain, swelling and redness spreading up the limb from the bite site. However 1 in 3 humans bitten will develop further symptoms called latrodectism. Symptoms typically include nausea, vomiting, abdominal or chest pain, agitation, headache, generalised sweating and hypertension. These can lead to other complications but these are rare. Nearly all the bites that end with these symptoms are from a female redback.

The majority of reported spider bites in Australia are attributed to redbacks, which are responsible for around 2,000 hospitalised bite cases each year. However, not a single death due to redback venom has been reported for 50 years, since the introduction of redback antivenom.

Photo credit: Natalie Saez

Other Facts

Males and females look quite different from each other. Males will often be smaller and have different colouring. They are normally light brown with white markings, but lack the distinctive red stripe that the females have. The red backs mating system is also rather perculiar, Natalie Saez from lifehacker put it perfectly:

During mating, not only does the female eat the male, but the male actually assists her in this process by flipping his body towards her so that he is closer to her mouthparts. Because the cannibalistic process is so slow, mating continues until the male succumbs to his injuries.

Hope you enjoyed this episode, I once had friends in Australia with these suckers living under their house!

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The Poisons Collection Volume 2: Little Blue Beasts

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Hello and welcome to The Poisons Collection Volume 2! Last series finished just over two years a go but I’m bringing it back with something a little different! Last time focused solely on some of the most poisonous plants the world has to offer this time we’re looking at the animals. To start off this series we’re looking at one of the classics in poisonous animal studies it’s the Poison Dart Frog.

I was once told that if you come across any truly colourful animal they are trying to say 1 of 3 things.

  1. I’m highly poisonous so please don’t eat me
  2. I’m trying to look highly poisonous so please don’t eat me
  3. Hey I’m pretty wanna date?

Now when it comes to the poison dart frog as the name would suggest it is most definitely trying to tell you the first.

Image result for poison dart frog

Photo By LTShears

Fact File

COMMON NAME: Poison Dart Frogs

SCIENTIFIC NAMEDendrobates tinctorius

TYPEAmphibians

DIETCarnivores

GROUP NAMEArmy

AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD3 to 15 years

HABITAT: Endemic to humid parts of Central and South America such as in tropical rain forests and rain forest islands.

SIZE: 2 inches long and weighs under 10 grams

Toxicity

These frogs produce what is known as pumiliotoxins, they are highly poisonous chemicals that the frogs use in self defence. These toxins aren’t enough to kill but can cause serious harm when ingested. These toxins can cause pain and cramping when handling the frogs roughly. Most of the time these toxins are enough to warn predators away and discourage them from eating these frogs.

Other Facts

Frogs are active during the daytime and hide in boulders and debris. The blue poison dart frog lays small clutches of five to six eggs. After hatching, the parents transfer tadpoles to individual pools of water, where they finish development. Its at the tadpole stage that they are most likely to not survive as they have not yet developed the toxins that protect them later on in life.

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The Poisons Collection: Blister Bush

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imagesNormally the plants I’ve looked at in the poisons collection have had relatively unassuming names. However, the blister bush goes for the more direct approach. This is a plant native to south Africa and grows in partially shady areas on medium to high altitudes. It’s leaves look a little like parsley but the shrub itself can grow up to 2 and a half metres tall.

As the name suggests the blister bush can cause blisters but it does it in a slightly unusual way. The surface of the plants leaves are covered with a cocktail of different chemicals. If you were to walk past it and brush these leaves you wouldn’t feel anything untoward at all. However as soon as the area that touched the leaves is exposed to any UV light thats where the problem starts. The chemicals cause a phototoxic reaction which causes blistering and severe itching. It can be extremely gruesome and from reports it can be extremely painful. Some reports have said that it can be like a bad sunburn.

In terms of treatment there are a few methods to counteract the plants defenses. Firstly being obviously not to touch it and to wear clothing that covers the skin. Secondly is that if you have touched the plant to wash the area immediately, cover it in sun tan lotion and then cover the area to prevent the phototoxic reaction. Thirdly, if the blisters have developed to wash them regularly and to keep covered. Once the itching and weeping of the blisters subsides you can uncover them to let them heal.

Either way I’d stay well away from this rather unassuming plant!

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The Poisons Collection: Killer Potatoes

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Yes its back, back again. The poisons collection makes a triumphant return with potatoes? Potatoes come from the nightshade family or Solanaceaea, which we’ve come across before in this collection in the form of deadly nightshade. What you may not no is that all members of this family contain the chemical Solanine. It occurs in all parts of the plant and is a defence mechanism. For example in potatoes (to be exact the tuber of the potato plant) when exposed to light they go green because of this to prevent animals from eating it.

Solanine is a glycoalkaloid which is poisonous to humans. Symptoms of Solanine poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Stomach or abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Delirium
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hallucinations

As well as others… It’s not necessarily lethal but there are some cases of it. Back to the point of the question though are potatoes poisonous. Well no, if you were to eat a raw potato, particularly a green one you may feel a little sick afterwards. However, by cooking potatoes this destroys part of the poison. Crop growers also test to see how much solanine is in the potatoes they produce. Just don’t go eating raw potatoes and you’ll be fine!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and happy BEDA!

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The Last Of The Poisons Collection

The poisons collection

So, if you’ve read the title correctly you are now reading the last edition to the poisons collection. This has been a fantastic series to write for 2015 but now it is time to move on to new things coming in 2016.

To finish the poisons collection I present a fearsome plant that is in some places known as the most deadly!

Nerium_oleander_crop_main_web

The Oleander plant is another rather beautiful shrub plant. In fact it is often used as an ornamental plant. It comes from the Mediterranean and is found mostly in seasonally dry rocky watercourses, in full sun. The scientific name is Nerium oleander (Kew, 2015).

All parts of the plant are highly toxic to the point that even contact with the sap could cause dermatitis (Kew, 2015). The plant contains cardiac glycosides, these when ingested have an effect on the heart. It causes the heart to have a rapid pulse and then to malfunction and this can cause death. Other effect are abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. The principal glycoside is called oleanderin. The effects are also fairly quick to work (Robertson, 2014).

There are a large number of cases of animals dying from ingesting the Oleander plant. Here is a quote from the poisons collection on an incident of Oleander poisoning:

“During the Peninsular Wars some of Wellington’s soldiers are alleged to have died after eating meat cooked on skewers made from the wood. This same claim is made about other groups of soldiers during other wars so is impossible to verify. This alleged ability of oleander skewers continues to be ascribed to various groups, often boy scouts out camping, to this day.”

However the above has been contested as to whether there would be enough of  the chemical oleandrin in a skewer and Oleander does not have woody stems that would be strong enough to use as skewers (Robertson, 2014).

On the bright side its toxic nature has lent itself to pest control with examples of its sap being used as rat poison. It’s also been used in traditional medicine and in the remedy of snake bites (Kew, 2015). There is another silver lining in that medical treatment of oleander poisoning is fairly good although a hospital stay is needed. I think it may be best to take a look and dont touch approach with these ones!

If you have enjoyed the poisons collection series do let me know! If you want to reminisce and read any of the poisons collection they will remain here.

Thanks for reading!

Happy Christmas!

 

References

Kew. (2015). Nerium oleander. Available: http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/nerium-oleander-oleander. Last accessed 11/12/2015.

Robertson, J. (2015). Nerium oleander. Available: http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/nerium_oleander.htm. Last accessed 11/12/2015.

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The Poisons Collection: Could Nightlock Berries Be Real?

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Have you ever dreamed of looking like a disney princess with your eyes all 300px-Atropa_belladonna_003big and wide and dreamy. Ever thought that you could get that by using a plant?! Well Atropa belladonna can give you those dreamy eyes! Just beware that is also highly poisonous! I joke obviously I wouldn’t encourage the use of something like deadly nightshade! Although it is an interesting plant so lets have a chat about it.

Starting with the name, the scientific name for deadly nightshade is Atropa belladonna. Belladonna literally means “beautiful lady” and Atropa can be translated to “end of life”. For me that’s plenty enough to stay away from this one (Robertson, 2014). Deadly nightshade comes from the same family of plants as that of potato and tobacco called Solanaceae (NARRATIVE CONTENT GROUP, 2015).

Atropa_belladonna_hands-010The plant has these very edible looking purple berries. They remind me a lot of the nightlock berries from the hunger games series, with quite the similar effect. The berries and the whole rest of the plant contain a cocktail of deadly tropane alkaloids with atropine being a particularly important ingredient. The effects of ingesting this particular cocktail may be slow to arrive at first but it can cause tachycardia, blurred vision, extreme dry mouth and throat. This can then lead to coma and eventual death if left untreated (Robertson, 2014).

Deadly nightshade has been used for several different things. I mentioned the cosmetic uses briefly before. It was used to create drops that dilated the pupils and made the eyes look bigger. Although apparently it had a tendency to cause partial blindness when used in excess. Its also has been used in medicine as pain relief and as a recreational drug because of the plants hallucinogenic properties (Medline Plus, 2015).

To conclude, if you do happen to pick up the wrong berry then it is treatable but get to the docs ASAP! This is one of my favourite plants in the collection due to its diverse background, look out for more of nightshade in my fairyology series.

References

Medline Plus. (2015). Belladonna. Available: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/531.html. Last accessed 07/12/2015.

NARRATIVE CONTENT GROUP. (2015). 13 plants that could kill you.Available: http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/photos/13-plants-that-could-kill-you/deadly-nightshade. Last accessed 07/12/2015.

Robertson, J. (2014). Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade. Available: http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/atropa_belladonna.htm. Last accessed 07/12/2015.

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The Poisons Collection: For The Potion Master

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Hello! Another edition of the poisons collection today. If you are in the potion making business this plant is a necessity. I’ve mentioned it in my post: Harry Potter and The Kingdom of Plants. It is of course Wolfs Bane.

“What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?” – Professor Snape

AconitumLycoctonumWolfs Bane is the common name for the plant Aconitum lycoctonum from the Ranunculaceae family. The same family as that of the buttercup (Robertson, 2014).

Aconitum has quite an intriguing past. Its highly poisonous nature means that it has been used as a poison placed on arrow heads for a long time. That’s part of how it gained its name of Wolfs Bane (Botanical.com, 2014).

The toxins in it are aconite and aconitine. Aconitine is the key toxin that even in small doses can cause a fatal slow heartbeat. It also causes gastrointestinal issues (Robertson, 2014).

So what is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane? Well they’re different species but both from the genus of Aconitum. Wolfs Bane typically refers to Aconitum lycoctonum but Monkshood refers to Aconitum napellus. Either way in the world of Harry Potter they create very different potions!

Til Next Time!

References

botanical.com. (2014). A Modern Herbal. Available: http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/a/aconi007.html. Last accessed 4/12/2015.

Robertson, J.. (2014). Aconitum lycoctonum, wolfsbane. Available: http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/aconitum_lycoctonum.htm. Last accessed 02/12/2015.

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The Poisons Collection: The Welsh Wonder

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The poisons collection is being added to once again with the beautiful Narcissus. The great thing about this plant is I can almost guarantee you’ve heard about it before. That’s because Narcissus is actually the humble Daffodil. This genus has many species of varying toxicity and most of the poisoning occurs by accident with the bulbs being mistaken for other things.

Close-up of a daffodil flowerDaffodils are the national flower of Wales and are strongly associated with St David’s Day (Museum of Wales, 2015). They can be found all over the European countryside and are synonymous with spring time as there bright yellow flowers bloom in the spring. They can be found in woodlands, grasslands and park lands (BBC Nature, 2014).

In terms of how well they could kill you, well all parts of the plant are toxic and the bulbs can be mistaken for that of an onion. Eating half a bulb could give you a bit of tummy upset but nothing worth going to the hospital for. The plant contains two of those toxic alkaloids (Robertson, 2014).

Due to how common the plant is there are loads of examples of people being poisoned by daffodils. While I was studying this plant for another assignment at uni in my local paper there was a story about a Chinese supermarket stocking daffodils and people mistaking them for other foods. A total of 10 people had to be treated in hospital.

To conclude these are beautiful flowers and you’ll be fine to have them in your house come the spring time. On the other hand if you fancy a snack just go and grab a packet of crisps instead.

References

BBC Nature. (2014). Daffodil. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Narcissus_pseudonarcissus. Last accessed 02/12/2015.

Museum of Wales. (2015). St Davids Day. Available: http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/275/. Last accessed 02/12/2015.

Robertson, J.. (2014). Narcissus spp.. Available: http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/narcissus.htm. Last accessed 02/12/2015.

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The Poisons Collection: Beware of the Honey!

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Today we’re putting not just one plant in the poisons collection but a genus! This genus being rhododendron. Not all but many of the species in this genus are poisonous (Robertson, 2014). So why should you beware of honey well keep reading and you will find out!

Sherlock_holmes_ver5Rhododendron are an invasive species to the UK. The particular species that causes the majority of the problem is Rhododendron ponticum. Brought over as an ornamental plant they have now spread to woodland areas replacing the natural under story (Taylor et al., 2013).

You may have heard of rhododendron from the Sherlock series. In the 2009 film it was mentioned as a proposed way to arrange a fake execution and in the BBC series it was speculated as being part of Sherlock’s fake death scheme (Skellet, 2009). It is also mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses.

All parts of the plant contain a cocktail of toxins including andromedotoxin, grayanotoxin, rhodotoxin and acetylandromedol and the nectar is believed to have the highest concentrationRhododendron-ponticum (Robertson, 2014). However most cases of humans becoming ill not through directly ingesting the plant but through eating honey made by bees feeding off rhododendron. This honey is nicknamed “mad honey” and can even cause hallucinations (Bryce, 2014). Often its actually animals grazing on the plant. It does have the capability to kill animals or cause them to have extreme symptoms such as slow heart rate and exhaustion. Death comes from respiratory failure but this only occurs when enough foliage has been consumed (Robertson, 2014).

To conclude Rhododendrons are a beautiful yet invasive plant and one definitely to be wary and watchful of!

References

Bryce, E.. (2004). The Strange History of ‘Mad Honey’. Avaliable: http://modernfarmer.com/2014/09/strange-history-hallucinogenic-mad-honey/. Last accessed: 16/11/15

Robertson, J.. (2014). Rhododendron. Available:http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/rhododendron.htm. Last accessed 16/11/15

Skellett, C.. (2009). Rhododendron Poison – Truth behind the science of Sherlock Holmes. Available: http://aschoonerofscience.com/poisons/rhododendron-poison-truth-behind-the-science-of-sherlock-holmes/. Last accessed 16/11/15

Taylor, S. L., Hill, R.A. and Edwards, C.. (2013). Characterising invasive non-native Rhododendron ponticum spectra signatures with spectroradiometry in the laboratory and field: Potential for remote mapping. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. 81 (1), 70-81.

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The Poisons Collection: What do Breaking Bad, Christianity and Wills n Kate have in common?

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Picture1To answer the titles question the thing that Breaking Bad, Christianity and Wills n Kate have in common is a plant by the name of lily of the valley. Another beautiful killer to add to the poisonous plant collection here today on That Biologist. The lily of the valley is surrounded by religion and traditions as well as having a rough total of 38 cardiac glycosides found in the plant (Atkinson et al., 2008). This makes it highly poisonous and its also wonderfully common.

The scientific name of lily of the valley is Convallaria majalis. It’s a perennial that spreads by underground rhizomes (Songyun, 2011). It’s recognisable through its bell shaped white (sometimes light pink) flowers and can be found throughout the cool temperate regions of the northern hemisphere often in woodlands (Steinbergs, 2008).

These rather sweet small plants pop up throughout our culture. In Christianity lily of the valley appear a few times. Its used a symbol of humility and the story goes that it grew from the tears of the virgin mary at the crucifixion of Jesus. Another story says it grew from the tears of Eve after she was driven out of the Garden of Eden with Adam (Birth Flowers Guide, 2006CONVALLARIA MAJALIS3). It was used in the bridal bouquet of Prince William and Kate Middleton as well as being in the hair piece of Pippa her sister (Scala, 2011). Finally it was used in the television series breaking bad as a poison of one of the characters (being careful about spoilers here).

Although that point brings me nicely on how this delicate little plant could kill you. The whole plant is poisonous including the berrys and leaves (Perez, 2011). Due to the cardiac glycosides it can cause irregular heart rates. The plant also has saponins which cause gastrointestinal poisoning, this involves lots of nasty things like being sick and diarrhea. Luckily all of these effects only occur if you ingest any part of the plant (Robertson, 2014).

To conclude there is hope if you did happen to have a nibble on this plant although it will mean a trip to the emergency room. It may also involve a temporary pacemaker to counter act the cardiac glycosides (Soniak, 2011). Its still probably best to avoid taking a snack of these guys when you’re on a walk in the woods and pack some sandwiches instead!

References

Atkinson, K., Fine, D., Evans, T. & Khan, S.. (2008). Suspected lily-of-the-valley ( Convallaria majalis) toxicosis in a dog. Journal of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care.. 18 (4), 399-403.

Birth Flowers Guide. (2006). May Birth Flower. Available: http://www.birthflowersguide.com/may-birth-flower.html. Last accessed 11/11/2015.

Perez, E. (2011). Lily of the Valley. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/poison/lily-of-the-valley/overview.html. Last accessed 11/11/2015.

Robertson, J.. (2014). Convallaria majalis. Available: http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/convallaria_majalis.htm. Last accessed 11/11/15.

Scala, J. (2011). Lily of the Valley Stars in Royal Bridal Bouquet. Available: http://www.aboutflowersblog.com/lily-of-the-valley-stars-in-royal-bridal-bouquet/. Last accessed 11/11/2015.

Steinbergs, A. (2011). Lily of the Valley. Available: http://www.theplantexpert.com/springbulbs/LilyoftheValley.html. Last accessed 11/11/2015.

Songyun, L. (2011). Convallaria. Available: http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=2&taxon_id=107908. Last accessed 11/11/2015.

Soniak, M.. (2011). How Poisonous is Lily of the Valley. Available: http://mentalfloss.com/article/28967/how-poisonous-lily-valley. Last accessed 11/11/15.

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