Just because an animal looks cute doesn't mean it can't kill. In a now-viral video first posted to Chinese social media app Tik Tok before making the rounds on Reddit, one tourist in Australia is seen holding an octopus capable of killing a grown human in a matter of minutes. Don't let its cute pea-size fool you. Endemic to Western Australia and northern Tasmania, the aggressive blue-ringed octopus clocks in as one of the most venomous animals found in the world’s oceans – and we’re not totally sure the video poster knew that.
“Its venom is 1,000 times more powerful than cyanide, and this golf-ball sized powerhouse packs enough venom to kill 26 humans within minutes,” according to the Ocean Conservancy. Though the octopus’ beak can penetrate a wetsuit, it can also go unnoticed.
“Although the painless bite can kill an adult, injuries have only occurred when an octopus has been picked out of its pool and provoked or stepped on,” writes Barrier Reef Australia.
Poison in the octopus’ saliva contains a neurotoxin similarly found in pufferfish called tetrodotoxin. Used for hunting prey and as a defense against predators, tetrodotoxin works by first blocking nerve signals through the body to cause muscle numbness, as well as nausea, vision loss, and a loss of senses and motor skills.
Eventually, motor paralysis causes the body to stop voluntarily breathing, resulting in respiratory failure and death by asphyxiation. The worst part? Victims are often aware of what is happening but unable to respond. There is no known antidote for blue-ringed octopus venom, but hours of artificial respiration and heart massage may save a victim until the poison dissipates.
“That person is lucky to be alive, even if it were a giant Pacific octopus, I encourage people to enjoy tide-pooling with their eyes, NOT their hands,” said Molly Zaleski, a marine biologist based in Alaska, to IFLScience. “They may be cute, but not worth the risk!”
Zaleski says marine mammals are best observed from afar. Just last month, an Australian family was shocked to find they had accidentally taken two of the deadly octopuses home in their pockets.
“If [the animal] is really cool and you’re in a safe place, take a photo or video! Enjoy the interaction, but otherwise leave them be,” explained Zaleski. “Once you’re home you can identify the animal from your photos and realize just how lucky you might be.”