You know how I’ve often said to steer clear of Australia? Well here’s another very good reason to stay out of there. Australia (and the waters around it) is home to the world’s most venomous snail (yes, snail). The geographic cone snail has extremely potent venom, which is capable of killing an adult human.

A nice picture of a geographic cone snail. You wouldn’t think such a creature would be one of the most venomous animals in the world, but it is. Image by Credits : Kerry Matz National Institute of General Medical Services, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As I mentioned, cone snails are found in the waters around Australia. They are also found in other areas of the Indo-Pacific, in tropical and subtropical waters, as well as the Red Sea. They are generally found in and around coral reefs, in shallow, warm waters.

Geographic cone snails have beautiful outer shells that are coveted by collectors. Their shells can grow to be ten to fifteen centimetres long, and are covered in brown and white patterns, often with some pink or red thrown in. The snails themselves mainly consist of a foot, eyestalks, a proboscis that is used to swallow prey, and a siphon that they use to detect chemicals in the environment.

The most dangerous part of cone snails is a harpoon-like tooth housed in the snails’ proboscises. The snails use this tooth to hunt prey, usually waving their proboscis like a lure and stabbing any fish foolish enough to get too close. They then swallow the fish, regurgitating the bones a few days later.

The shell of a cone snail. Image by Didier Descouens, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The dangerous part comes from what the cone snails inject into their poor victims. A lovely melange of toxic compounds make up the cone snails’ venom, which is estimated to be the most toxic venom in the world. There’s enough venom in a single cone snail sting to kill fifteen people. And there is no antivenin for cone snail stings, so these guys are especially deadly. The only treatment involves keeping the victim alive (via artificial respiration and other fun things) until the toxins have left the body.

There is good news, though (for we humans, not for the cone snails). Within the vast array of compounds present in cone snail venom are some that have potential in medicine, particularly as very potent and non-addictive painkillers. But still, these snails are horribly deadly, so be wary of any pretty shells you see in Australia!