Slow lorises, with their large, soulful eyes and gentle demeanor, may seem like harmless, adorable creatures. However, beneath their innocent appearance lies a surprising and potentially deadly secret. In this article, we delve into the world of slow lorises and uncover the truth about their dangerous side.
- Slow lorises are one of the few mammals known to be venomous.
- Their venom is produced by combining oil from their brachial arm gland with saliva.
- This venom can cause death in small mammals and anaphylactic shock in humans.
- The primary function of their venom appears to be defense against parasites and conspecifics.
- There are hypotheses suggesting that their venom might have evolved to mimic cobras.
The Venomous Nature of Slow Lorises
Slow lorises belong to the genus Nycticebus and are one of the only seven types of mammals known to be venomous. This unique adaptation has intrigued scientists for years, and recent research has shed light on the structure and function of their venom.
The Composition of Their Venom
Research on captive samples from three of the eight slow loris species has revealed that the protein within their venom resembles the disulphide-bridged heterodimeric structure of Fel-d1, more commonly known as cat allergen. When comparing the venom of N. pygmaeus and N. coucang, 212 and 68 compounds were identified, respectively. The venom becomes activated when the oil from the brachial arm gland is combined with saliva. This potent mixture has been known to cause death in small mammals and can even lead to anaphylactic shock and death in humans.
Hypotheses Surrounding the Function of Their Venom
There are several hypotheses regarding the function of slow loris venom:
- Prey as Target: Some suggest that the venom might be used to kill or immobilize prey. However, there’s little evidence supporting this, as lorises have been observed to consume prey rapidly without the apparent need for venom.
- Predators as Target: The venom might serve as a defense mechanism against potential predators. In fact, certain predators have been observed to be repelled by the scent of loris venom.
- Ectoparasites as Target: The venom could be used to ward off ectoparasites. Given the low prevalence of ectoparasite infestation among lorises, this hypothesis holds some weight.
- Conspecifics as Target: The venom might be used in intersexual competition or during conflicts among members of the same species.
The Cobra Mimicry Hypothesis
One of the most fascinating theories surrounding slow loris venom is the idea that it may have evolved to mimic cobras. This hypothesis suggests that during the Miocene era, when both slow lorises and cobras migrated throughout Southeast Asia, the evolution of venom in slow lorises might have been an adaptive strategy against predators. This form of mimicry, known as Müllerian mimicry, could have been used by slow lorises to deter potential threats by mimicking the appearance and behavior of venomous cobras.
The Danger to Humans
While slow lorises might use their venom primarily for defense against natural threats, humans are not immune to its effects. Bites from slow lorises can be intensely painful. In some cases, individuals bitten by a slow loris have experienced swelling, festering wounds that take weeks to heal, and even anaphylactic shock. In extreme cases, such bites can be fatal.
It’s essential to approach these creatures with caution and respect their wild nature. Despite their cute appearance, slow lorises are not suitable as pets and should be appreciated from a distance.
What happens if a slow loris bites you?
A slow loris bite can be dangerous and even potentially lethal to humans. Here’s why:
Venom: Slow lorises produce a toxin from glands located near their elbows. They can take this toxin into their mouths and mix it with their saliva. When they bite, this venomous mixture can be delivered to the victim. The venom can cause severe pain, swelling, and even necrosis (death of body tissue). In some cases, the venom can lead to anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal if not treated promptly.
Allergic Reactions: Even if the venom itself isn’t lethal, some people might have allergic reactions to it. This can lead to difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, and other symptoms. In severe cases, an allergic reaction can be life-threatening.
Infections: Like any animal bite, a bite from a slow loris can introduce bacteria and other pathogens into the wound. This can lead to infections if the wound isn’t cleaned and treated properly.
Conservation Concerns: It’s worth noting that slow lorises are protected species in many countries and are often illegally trafficked as pets. Bites often occur when people try to handle or keep these animals as pets. Not only is this dangerous for the reasons mentioned above, but it’s also harmful to the conservation of these unique primates.
If someone is bitten by a slow loris, it’s essential to seek medical attention immediately. Cleaning the wound, monitoring for signs of allergic reactions, and possibly receiving antivenom or other treatments can be crucial.
Should you tickle a slow loris?
The slow loris, when tickled, raises its arms not out of enjoyment but as a defense mechanism. This action is an attempt to access a venomous gland located on the inside of its elbow. Contrary to the playful demeanor shown in the videos, tickling is a traumatic experience for these creatures. International Animal Rescue (IAR), which operates the world’s largest slow loris center, has initiated the “Tickling Is Torture” campaign to raise awareness about the harm these videos cause to slow lorises.
The popularity of tickling videos has led to an increased demand for slow lorises as pets. To cater to this demand, these animals are poached from their natural habitats at alarming rates. This has severe implications for their survival, with four of the eight slow loris species already classified as vulnerable, one as critically endangered, and the remaining yet to be classified.
The fate of the slow lorises captured for the pet trade is bleak. They are often confined to tiny cages, fed inappropriate diets, and suffer from malnutrition and other health issues. One of the most cruel practices involves clipping off their teeth without anesthesia, making them defenseless and more marketable as pets.