The most venomous animal of them all

The most venomous animal of them all
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Injected directly into the flesh by inch-long fangs or needle-sharp harpoons, venom is weaponised chemistry.

In any list of the world's most venomous animals, snakes often get top billing. Not all snakes are venomous, but certain groups have evolved to channel toxins through grooves or tubes in their teeth.

According to Dr Bryan Fry of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, one of his local species produces more venom than any other.

"The mulga snake has exceeded 1.3g of dry venom from a single milking," says Fry, whose passion for his subject has earned him the nickname "Venom Doc".

Also known as the king brown snake, this species is common across Australia. It shelters under timber and rubbish piles. Fortunately, despite the seeming abundance of venomous snakes, snake bites are rare in the country.

Fry says several large snakes can produce a similar yield of venom, including the king cobra from India, the Gaboon viper of sub-Saharan Africa and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake from the US.

However, yield is not the only way to measure how venomous a species is. That is highlighted by the species often described as the world's most venomous scorpion: the dramatically-named deathstalker.

This pale yellow arachnid lives in deserts in the Middle East. It hunts at night for worms, centipedes and other invertebrates.

Scorpions paralyse their prey with their notorious sting. Known as the telson, this last segment of their tail contains venom sacs and a barb that injects the toxins.

At the opposite end of the scale to the mulga snake, the deathstalker's venom is delivered in short bursts to hit its small prey. Yet despite never growing longer than 11cm, the deathstalker packs a serious punch. Tests suggest that 0.25mg of deathstalker venom would be enough to kill 1kg-worth of mice.

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