When you think of poisonous animals, you most likely think of spiders, snakes, deadly frogs, and other creatures like that first. But what you might not know is that there are actually poisonous birds, too. They’re rare, though. In fact, they’re so rare that the hooded pitohui is the world’s first poisonous bird confirmed by scientific research.
The hooded pitohui stores neurotoxin in its body and internal organs
The Melanesian people of Papua New Guinea have always known that the hooded pitohui was poisonous in some way. However, scientists had no idea until an ornithologist studying birds of paradise stumbled upon the species.
Jack Dumbacher was working the nets he and his colleagues had captured several hooded pitohui in when he was scratched. Instinctively, he pulled his finger away and put it in his mouth to soothe the pain. He quickly began to feel his tongue and lips go numb. Next, his mouth began to burn, and it burned painfully for hours. He later suspected the bird had caused the symptoms.
To test this hypothesis, Dumbacher grabbed a pitohui feather and placed it in his mouth. He immediately began to feel the same numbness and pain spread across his mouth. From there, Dumbacher began digging deeper into the hooded pitohui. He asked the locals in the area about the bird, which they advised was indeed poisonous.
The people of New Guinea call the pitohui the “garbage bird” because it smells terrible when cooked. It’s only consumed as a last resort, OddityCentral notes. Dumbacher wanted to learn more about the pitohui and the toxin it releases. After many hours of studying, he and others determined that the bird stores batrachotoxin in its feathers, body, and internal organs.
This neurotoxin is found in other creatures, like poison dart frogs and even the beetles that the pitohui eats. These beetles probably cause the hooded pitohui’s poisonous design, as scientists do not believe it produces the neurotoxin itself. Why the bird’s body stores this poison is still a mystery, though.
Thankfully, we can rest easy knowing that the hooded pitohui is the only poisonous bird in the world. At least that we know of.