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The pitohui bird contains deadly batrachotoxin

Did you know that the pitohui ("pit-oo-eey,") bird of New Guinea is the only bird known to contain a toxin? The toxin is not just any old toxin, it is batrachotoxin, which previously has been found only in the skin of some South American “poison dart frogs.”  That’s the stuff  applied to the tips of arrows to render them more deadly.  The discovery of the poison in the bird was made back in 1989 when ornithologist Jack Dumbacher caught one of these birds in a net in New Guinea.  When he inadvertently touched his lips after handling the bird, Jack noted that his tongue and lips went numb.  This spurred a chemical investigation which revealed the presence of batrachotoxin in the bird’s feathers.  But how did it get there?  Recent investigations suggest that the birds, or indeed the frogs, do not synthesize the poison.  They get it from their food supply.  Specifically from a species of beetle they dine on.  Melyrid beetles seem to be the source of the toxin.  There are several species of pitohui, with the most poisonous one being the “Hooded Pitohui.”  Feeding just a few milligrams of its skin to a mouse will kill it in a few minutes.  You can recognize the “Hooded” guy by its coloration; its plumage is a brilliant red and black.  The less poisonous birds are more brown coloured.  Maybe the intense colour serves as a warning to predators to leave the bird alone.  Anyway, the moral of the story is that if you are wandering through the forests of New Guinea, and you come upon a beautiful red and black pitohui bird, just enjoy its vocal talents from a distance.  Do not attempt to handle it.  This bird is better off in the bush than in the hand


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