Air Date: Week of November 24, 2000
Living On Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on two toxic birds in New Guinea that give predators more than they bargained for.
VILLIGER: The people of New Guinea have known for ages that eating particular native birds can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Now scientists know why. It turns out pitohui and ifrita birds have a potent nerve toxin concentrated on their feathers and skin. The poison is gram for gram more dangerous than curare or strychnine. When predators taste these small, colorful birds, they are treated to a burning, stinging mouth. Even lice prefer not to stick around. No one's sure how these two unrelated birds produce their defensive mechanism, but it likely stems from something in their diet, maybe a berry or an insect. The pitohui and ifrita themselves seem blithely unaware of the pain they can inflict. The birds also possess some as yet mysterious protection against their own poison. That's this week's animal update. I'm Maggie Villiger.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Newsletter [Click here]
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth