Meet Pitohui, Ifrita And Rufous: The Most Poisonous Birds On Earth

3rd January 2011

Published by nobert soloria bermosa in Science
August 24, 2008

The most venomous creatures on earth are fish and snakes. There are some species of amphibians and mammals that are known to be venomous but there are no known species of venomous bird. However, pitohui, ifrita and rufous are poisonous to eat or touch.

Pitohui

Pitohui is a genus of birds endemic to New Guinea, belonging to the family Pachycephalidae. Pitohuis are brightly colored, omnivorous birds. The skin and feathers of pitohuis contain powerful neurotoxic alkaloids of the batrachotoxin group. It is believed that these serve the birds as a chemical defense, either against ectoparasites or against visually guided predators such as snakes, raptors or humans. The birds do not produce batrachotoxin themselves that’s why they are not considered venomous but rather poisonous.

There are 6 species classified in this genus. The most notable species are the Hooded Pitohui and Variable Pitohui.

Hooded Pitohui (Pitohui dichrous)

This colourful bird is the most poisonous bird on the planet. The Hooded Pitohui is a songbird of New Guinea with black and orange plumage. This species and its two close relatives, the Variable Pitohui and the Brown Pitohui, were the first documented poisonous birds. A neurotoxin called homobatrachotoxin found in the birds skin and feathers, causes numbness and tingling in those touching the bird.

The Hooded Pitohui acquires its poison from part of its diet, the Choresine beetle which is also a likely source of the lethal batrachotoxins found in Colombia’s poison dart frog.

Variable Pitohui (Pitohui kirhocephalus)

This small colourful bird, like the Hooded Pitohui is poisonous. The Variable Pitohui is a species of bird in the Colluricinclidae family. It is found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests. The Variable Pitohui, as its name implies, exists in many different forms, and twenty subspecies with different plumage patterns have been named. Two of them, however, closely resemble the Hooded Pitohui.

Blue-capped Ifrita (Ifrita kowaldi)

The Blue-capped Ifrita is another poisonous bird from New Guinea. It is also known as the Ifrit and is called Nanisani by local villagers. The Blue-capped Ifrita is placed as the only member of the genus Ifrita, which is it placed in the family Cinclosomatidae. The Blue-capped Ifrita, along with the Hooded Pitohui, sequesters batrachotoxin in its skin and feathers, which causes numbness and tingling to those who handle the bird. The toxin is acquired from part of its diet, the Choresine beetles.

Rufous or Little Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla megarhyncha)

They look harmless but it is in fact a very poisonous bird. The Little Shrike-thrush is a species of bird in the Colluricinclidae family. It is found in Australia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical moist mountains. This bird is also known to carry batrachotoxins (BTXs) similar to those found in the secretions of Central and South American poison dart frogs.

Well, now that we have learned about these poisonous birds, be careful not to have contact with them nor eat them.

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