Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Poisonous Bird
Look up into the trees of Papau New Guinea's rain forests. Perhaps you will see a flash of orange and black and be lucky enough to see the bird on the left land on a branch nearby. It will not be overly cautious, but I suggest you don't get to close.

This bird is poisonous.

One of only a handful of poisonous bird species in the world, the hooded pitohui (Pitohui dichrous) is considered to be the most toxic. It contains a powerful neurotoxin called homobatrachotoxin in it's skin and feathers. Presumably, the purpose of this toxin is to defend against both parasites that would try to crawl onto it and visual predators like snakes and birds of prey that would learn to associate the bird's bright colors with a bad meal.

Not necessarily lethal to large predators, the toxin causes numbness, tingling, and discomfort when handled by humans.

What I find most interesting about these creatures is the source of their poison. They don't actually produce it themselves, but rather acquire it by eating a specific type of beetle. The type of batrachotoxin they obtain this way is the exact same as the toxin secreted by Phyllobates terribilis, the deadly poison dart frog of Colombia which also obtains it's toxin by eating certain insects.

Colombia and Papau New Guinea are literally on opposite ends of the earth. Yet you have a frog in one place and a bird in the other, each acquiring the exact same toxin from the same external source. That such things are possible makes me glad to live on this planet. The wonders of this world are so many, a person could spend an entire lifetime exploring them and never run out.


  1. Wow! I never knew a poisonous bird existed. Nice blog, Jason! Well written too! I've read several of your blogs now, and I find these blogs of yours very interesting. Thanks!

  2. Good to know, we have to be aware of it! Thanks for the colorfilled photos.