Venom Deadly 60


Venom

Wildlife series. Steve is spat at and bitten by scorpions, spiders and snakes in his quest to prove that venom is one of the most lethal weapons of the animal kingdom.


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Transcript


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My name's Steve Backshall,

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and this is my search for the Deadly 60.

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Amazing!

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It's not just animals that are deadly to me,

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but that are deadly in their own world.

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My crew and I are travelling the planet,

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and you're coming with me every step of the way!

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Agh!

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Today we're coming to you from the Paradise Wildlife Park

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in Hertfordshire. We've got a diverse array of creatures for you

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in this special show. But they've all got one thing in common,

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and for a clue of what that is, these are scorpions.

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And yes, they are real. And our subject for today is venom.

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Venom is a toxic fluid injected through fangs,

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teeth, spurs or stingers.

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It can paralyse, disarm and start to digest its victim,

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and is therefore one of the most successful weapons

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an animal can possess.

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'We're going to take a closer look at those animals

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'that use venom as a weapon, and find out what makes it so deadly.

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'From snakes, spiders and scorpions...'

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Ow!

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'..to some unexpected animals. All have one thing in common -

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'they're packed full of toxic venom.'

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On Deadly 60, there's one kind of venomous creature

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we probably deal with more than any other. It's the scorpions.

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Oh!

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It's a beauty!

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You're a bit fiery, aren't you?

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'I found this desert scorpion in Namibia.

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'And in neighbouring South Africa,

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'a flat rock scorpion.'

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-Ow!

-HE LAUGHS

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'But don't worry - he didn't sting me,

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'just nipped me with his sizeable pincers.'

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There's one down there.

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'And in Baja, Mexico, I saw more scorpions in one small area

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'than I've ever seen before!'

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There's another one there, look! Ooh!

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It's the kind of creepy-crawly that gives people the heebie-jeebies,

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but they come in all different shapes and sizes,

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and they're a remarkably interesting creature.

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I'm going to start with an absolute classic.

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This...is as big as scorpions get.

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It's a giant Indian scorpion.

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But this scorpion is not...

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..dangerously venomous, so...

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..I feel pretty confident...

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..doing this.

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Now, this certainly isn't a trick that I would try

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with all the scorpions in these boxes.

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Thing is... Ow!

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This one...

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is very keen with its pincers,

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but not quite so keen

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to use the sting in that tail.

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'That's because his venom isn't that potent.

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'It's those pincers that are his main weapon.'

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Look at that!

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Pretty much as big as a scorpion will ever get,

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and totally ferocious.

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Ow!

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So that...

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is our monster, prehistoric-looking mega-scorpion.

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But...this is by no means the most deadly

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of the array I've got in front of me.

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Let's put him back.

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OK. So, next in line

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we have an old friend of the Deadly 60.

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This one in here...

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is the Transvaal fat-tailed scorpion.

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'I found this scorpion in the wild

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'the last time I was in South Africa.'

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Ooh!

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OK. Got to hold my nerve here...

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..cos I'm getting pinched, but the pinch is not the problem.

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This is probably one of the most venomous scorpions in Africa,

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and if you look, the tail's big and fat,

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the pincers small and thin.

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This one here has a really nasty punch.

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And this one is really interesting,

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because it doesn't only use its sting to kill its prey,

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but it can also flick venom from the end of its tail

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towards the eye of an attacker.

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But this one here packs a punch

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that makes the sting of the Indian giant scorpion

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seem absolutely insignificant.

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And we're not done yet. It gets even stronger.

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I'm doing this very, very carefully. Now, you might find that surprising.

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We've just had this giant mega-scorpion

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actually in my hand, and yet this tiny little scorpion here

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is far more of a threat to me.

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So, this, again, is known as a fat-tailed scorpion,

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and it packs an absolutely huge punch.

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And it's actually quite aggressive, as well.

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Just introducing the tongs close to it...

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Oh! Just stung right into the end of the tongs!

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I'm very, very glad I didn't stick my finger in there,

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because if I did, it would be straight off to hospital for me.

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But it gets even worse!

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The last scorpion we have on our list is called the death stalker,

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and it's got its name for a reason.

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This one here has a venom that makes all of the others here

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seem pretty paltry by comparison.

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So I'm going to be very, very careful.

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OK.

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Look at that!

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It's absolutely tiny.

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It's a minuscule little scorpion

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that you could easily get in your shoes

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or in your clothing.

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It doesn't look like anything, does it?

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But actually this one here has a very, very strong venom -

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certainly enough to overcome me,

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and easily to overcome its prey, which is small invertebrates.

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Now, I'm going to show you something interesting here.

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We've got...Indian rock scorpion,

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and the death stalker.

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If you look at the huge pincers on this one here,

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you can see that those are the thing it's going for the forceps with.

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They're its primary weapon.

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The tail and the sting is actually, by comparison, pretty thin,

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whereas on this, the pincers are small,

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thin, weedy even. It barely even uses those for hunting,

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whereas the tail is thick, fat and loaded with venom.

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And that is a very good rule of thumb for working out

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how deadly a scorpion is.

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This one here - big claws, thin tail -

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not too much of a problem. This one here -

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tiny thin claws, fat tail - even though it's tiny by comparison,

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this is the one you have to worry about.

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Ow!

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But we can't make a programme exploring venom

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without including some of my favourite venomous predators,

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the snakes.

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On Deadly 60, we've been lucky enough

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to have some incredible encounters with these remarkable reptiles.

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Look at that!

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This is such an efficient way of moving across sand!

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'It was in the unforgiving expanse of the Namibian dunes

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'that we tracked down the iconic sidewinder.

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'The rainforests of Costa Rica are home to the super-fast,

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'deadly accurate eyelash pit viper...

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'..and the beautiful warm waters of the Philippines

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'provide the perfect habitat for the equally beautiful banded sea krait.'

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All these guys are packed with toxic venom.

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And for that reason...

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-..they're going on the Deadly 60!

-SNAKE RATTLES

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But just how does this lethal concoction really work?

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Venom is nature's most deadly chemical weapon,

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and for us as humans, the best place to deal with chemicals

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is in a lab. Come on in.

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-Hi, Mark!

-Hi, Steve.

-How you doing?

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'Mark here is an old friend, and a snake expert.

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'And with his help, we're going to take a closer look

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'at some real snake venom.'

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Venoms are some of the most important chemicals in the world,

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and not just for the animals that possess them,

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but also for people, too.

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Increasingly in recent years,

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venoms have been used for medicines,

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and also for antivenoms. That means that if you get bitten by a snake,

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the medicine you're given to make you better actually comes originally

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from the venom itself. What we're going to do today is,

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we're actually going to milk some of that venom from a snake.

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I don't mean that snakes have tiny little udders and you do this.

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What we're going to do is get one to bite down on this here.

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The fangs should pierce this membrane

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and the venom dribble into the bottom of this pot here.

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Now, the snake we're going for is a western diamondback rattlesnake.

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We have dealt with rattlesnakes on the Deadly 60 before,

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but not this exact species.

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'The last time I encountered a rattlesnake was in Baja, Mexico,

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'where I was pretty much tripping over them.'

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SNAKE RATTLES

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'The whole time, my crew and I had to be really careful

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'to avoid getting bitten.

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'Rattlesnake venoms are pretty potent.'

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And Mark here has one in a tube.

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'Strange as this may seem, the tube protects the snake from harm

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'and allows her to be moved quickly and safely onto the table.'

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So this...

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is our snake.

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Down that end is the rattle,

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which was, earlier on, going absolutely crazy.

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-I mean, if you actually...

-RATTLING

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Listen to that. That is one of my favourite noises

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in the whole animal kingdom.

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We need to get this snake out of the tube, controlled and safe,

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and then we can try and make it bite.

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-OK, snake secure.

-Snake secure.

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Yeah.

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Now we need to get this snake to bite down that membrane

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exactly as it would if this were prey.

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OK, fella...

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Let's go for it.

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OK. And here we go.

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Perfect!

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Oh! Oh, dear!

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That wasn't supposed to happen. We've gone through the membrane

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and torn it to shreds.

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But if you get a close-up there,

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you can see...the fangs -

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look at that! -

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working independently,

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just moving backwards and forwards.

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And look how sharp that is!

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It really is like a hypodermic needle.

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'Many species of snake have hollow, needle-like fangs

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'which they use to inject their toxic venom.

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'And I'm going to give you a closer look at this incredible stuff.'

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This may only look like a tiny, insignificant piece of venom,

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but I'm going to be very careful how I handle it.

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I'll wash my hands afterwards. There is an experiment we can do with this

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to show you how powerful it is.

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'Now just to warn you, if you're squeamish,

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'this experiment involves blood.'

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OK.

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Just going to add a very little in there.

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Right. We'll see what happens.

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OK, so what's going on in this jar now

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is pretty much exactly what would be going on

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in the body of a rat, a mouse,

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a rabbit - whatever it is that our rattlesnake has bitten.

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Once injected into the body,

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the venom starts to act immediately.

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This rattlesnake's venom has a devastating effect

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on the victim's blood.

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Oh, look at that! It's actually starting to separate out.

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It's going all gooey and globby...

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..and it's turning into blood jelly!

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Now, blood has an awful lot of functions in the body,

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but it is an incredibly important fluid.

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We need this stuff flowing round our body like this,

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in order to survive.

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You can imagine how long a running rat or rabbit's going to last

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with its blood like that.

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'Several hundred species of snake use venom as a potent weapon.

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'I was lucky enough to meet the largest venomous snake in the world

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'in Thailand.

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'But I had to have my wits about me!'

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Its venomous bite is so strong that it could bring down an elephant

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and kill an adult human in as little as a minute and a half.

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Handling this snake demands total respect and attention,

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so I brought it out here into the paddy fields

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where we can keep a close eye on it.

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'In this innocent-looking box is one of the largest venomous snakes

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'I've ever seen, and I'm about to come face to face with it.'

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Mr Kam here's been working with snakes since he was ten years old,

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for 53 years, so there's probably no-one in the world better equipped

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to show me how to deal with these incredible creatures.

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Please?

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No way!

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This is a king cobra.

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At this size, you kind of expect it to be a python.

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But it's not. It is...

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the largest venomous snake in the world.

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See, this snake is getting on for four metres long.

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His head is the size of my hand,

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and the fangs are long, thin needles

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that can inject huge amounts of venom

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even deep into the muscle,

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and that's why it is so potentially dangerous to people.

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Even though this is a snake with incredible capabilities,

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it's putting on a big display to make itself seem larger,

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make it seem more threatening,

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and it is absolutely, unimaginably vast.

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He really is just figuring me out

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and making sure that I keep my distance.

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As long as I'm exactly where I am now, I'm safe.

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If I got even a few inches closer...

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..he'd be able to bite me.

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'So we've seen the largest venomous snake in the world,

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'and deadly scorpions.

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'But scorpions are in a group of creatures

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'probably more deadly than any other - the arachnids,

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'which of course includes...

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'the spiders!'

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-Agh!

-HE LAUGHS

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Probably the most common fear amongst people

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is arachnophobia, fear of spiders,

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particularly down to great big hairy spiders like this tarantula here.

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Now, that would have to be one of the most unfair things

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I can think of, because, of 40,000-odd species of spiders,

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only a tiny percentage, maybe 60, are actually potentially dangerous

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to people. But this big spider does have venom,

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and it does manage to take on some pretty sizeable prey.

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I'm hoping to show you how.

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Right...

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So, this is what's known as a bird-eating spider.

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And you can already see, dripping down those mighty fangs -

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and they are absolutely gigantic -

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little beads of venom.

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'If you think I'm crazy holding this monster of the spider world,

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'well, I met one in the Amazonian rainforest

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'that makes this one seem small!'

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She's got fangs that are about as long...

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as a cheetah's claws,

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and a good deal sharper.

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She could give me a really, really nasty bite.

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So I just want to be ever so careful.

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This...is the Goliath bird-eating spider.

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Now, although they certainly are capable of it,

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birds don't actually form a large part of their diet.

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Most of what they'll eat are rats and mice,

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lizards and crickets - invertebrates.

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But really they will take almost anything

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that's unlucky enough to wander past their burrow.

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Look at the size of her!

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'This spider's venom isn't really strong enough to do me any damage.'

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And I think I'm probably... quite close to getting a bite,

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-which is why I'm sweating so much.

-HE CHUCKLES

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So even though the venom of this spider

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is not particularly strong,

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just the physical force of driving those claws in

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would be enough to make a bite from this incredibly painful.

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It's not people, though, that have to be worried about this spider.

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It's the various small creatures that wander around in its world.

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For the most part, its prey is made up of crickets, other invertebrates.

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But they will take small rodents, frogs.

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They've even been seen taking reasonably sized venomous snakes.

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A spider like this

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is a truly awesome predator.

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Look at that!

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So we've had a look at venom, and how scorpions, snakes and spiders

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use it to catch and kill their prey.

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'But in Baja, Mexico, we found one deadly critter

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'that uses its toxic sting in a very different but terrifying way.'

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Got her! Got her. Right.

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'This is not for the fainthearted.'

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Got to be ever so careful. I don't want to damage her,

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but also her sting is absolutely...paralysing.

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There she is!

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That...

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..is the tarantula hawk wasp, or pepsis wasp,

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and she is one of the most...

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incredible predators found anywhere in the world.

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'The name comes from the fact that this wasp

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'will take on tarantula spiders many times her own size.'

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Look at the size of her sting!

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Look at that glorious, glorious colour -

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very vibrant metallic blue,

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with bright orange wings.

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But don't let her beauty fool you.

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This is one of the most grotesque killers

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in the whole of the animal kingdom.

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What she'll do is fly around trying to find a tarantula burrow.

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Then she'll go into the burrow, lay a single egg

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on top of a tarantula that she's stung and paralysed,

0:21:220:21:25

and then that egg will hatch out,

0:21:250:21:28

and the larvae will eat the tarantula

0:21:280:21:30

while it's paralysed but still alive.

0:21:300:21:33

So this creature here has a sting

0:21:330:21:36

that's strong enough, that's powerful enough,

0:21:360:21:38

to paralyse a spider that might be this size,

0:21:380:21:41

much, much bigger than she is. She has a strength

0:21:410:21:44

way beyond her size, and a sting that...

0:21:440:21:47

Well, if I was to get stung by this,

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I would be able to think about nothing else for the next 24 hours.

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It's way up there with the bullet ant of South America

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as being the most painful sting of any insect on the planet.

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But she is incredible. Look at the mandibles!

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Look at the size of these jaws here!

0:22:030:22:06

So strong!

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So far we've only dealt with animals that use their venom

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to actually catch their prey, to incapacitate it, bring it down,

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and even to start digesting it. But animals are a resourceful bunch,

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and some have figured how to use their venom

0:22:250:22:27

in a totally different way - for defence.

0:22:270:22:30

We found one animal in Costa Rica that's so good at using its venom

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as a defence, that it strikes fear into the hearts of local tribes.

0:22:350:22:39

If you ask many of the people that live here

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what animal they're most frightened of, they won't say snakes

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or scorpions. What they'll probably say...

0:22:470:22:49

are the tiny insects that are living in this tree.

0:22:490:22:54

And it might surprise you to know that they're ants.

0:22:560:23:00

Just see if I can get some of them to come out

0:23:000:23:03

with my snake hook.

0:23:030:23:05

These...are bullet ants.

0:23:090:23:12

They're called bullet ants because being stung by one of them

0:23:130:23:16

feels a bit like being shot.

0:23:160:23:19

They've got the most painful venom of any insect.

0:23:190:23:23

Believe it or not, there was a guy called Schmidt

0:23:230:23:26

who tested out the stings of all the insects round the world

0:23:260:23:29

to find out which ones were most painful,

0:23:290:23:32

and this one came out on top.

0:23:320:23:34

I can actually confirm that the bullet ant

0:23:340:23:36

is just about the most painful experience you can have,

0:23:360:23:39

because I've been stung by these many, many times.

0:23:390:23:42

In fact, a few years back, I took part in a ritual in the Amazon

0:23:420:23:48

where I was stung by hundreds of these bullet ants at the same time,

0:23:480:23:52

and within a short period of time, I completely lost consciousness

0:23:520:23:56

because of the pain.

0:23:560:23:58

The reason for the bullet ant's incredible sting

0:24:010:24:04

isn't really for overcoming its prey.

0:24:040:24:06

The sting really is used for getting rid of animals

0:24:060:24:09

that might want to hunt them. And the reason it's so painful

0:24:090:24:13

is just really so that, if something big sticks its nose

0:24:130:24:16

into the bullet ants' nest, it'll get stung, perhaps many times,

0:24:160:24:20

and think that it's in real danger.

0:24:200:24:22

I suggest, if you ever go anywhere where there are bullet ants,

0:24:240:24:27

please don't try this.

0:24:270:24:29

-Are you nervous, Steve?

-I'm very nervous.

0:24:290:24:32

OK.

0:24:320:24:34

So...

0:24:340:24:36

it is just extraordinary that an animal of this size

0:24:360:24:39

has a sting that's powerful enough to incapacitate an animal

0:24:390:24:43

the size of me.

0:24:430:24:45

For that alone,

0:24:450:24:47

the bullet ant has got to go on the Deadly 60.

0:24:470:24:50

'So the bullet ant uses its venomous sting to help it stay alive.'

0:24:520:24:55

We've seen how snakes use venom as a weapon when hunting,

0:24:580:25:02

but they're also hunted themselves,

0:25:020:25:04

so some species use their venom in a neat way to protect themselves.

0:25:040:25:08

This is a spitting cobra,

0:25:090:25:11

so called because it literally spits its venom

0:25:110:25:14

at any attacker who gets too close.

0:25:140:25:16

Their aim's incredibly accurate, and they go for the eyes.

0:25:180:25:22

The venom works like acid, causing extreme pain,

0:25:260:25:30

and can blind an animal.

0:25:300:25:32

But just what does it feel like to be on the receiving end?

0:25:320:25:35

Back at the park, I've got the perfect opportunity to find out.

0:25:370:25:41

Inside this box here that Mark's holding down

0:25:460:25:49

is a Nubian cobra. It comes from Africa.

0:25:490:25:51

Now, this snake catches its prey in exactly the same way

0:25:510:25:55

as other cobras do - with its teeth. But should a large predator

0:25:550:25:59

come in and get close, it does something very nifty indeed.

0:25:590:26:02

It spits its venom. To show you that work,

0:26:020:26:05

my entire crew is actually kitted up with visors like this,

0:26:050:26:09

to protect our eyes, and also...

0:26:090:26:12

I've got this camera here,

0:26:120:26:14

so you can see exactly what I'm seeing.

0:26:140:26:17

Now all we need to do...

0:26:170:26:19

..is get the snake out the box.

0:26:200:26:23

Right. Has everyone got visors on?

0:26:240:26:28

All ready to roll? OK, Mark - fire away.

0:26:280:26:31

'I'm taking the part of a potential attacker

0:26:310:26:34

'to show you just how the cobra will deal with me.'

0:26:340:26:36

OK, snake is out of the box.

0:26:380:26:41

Ooh! He actually flicked venom straight at me.

0:26:460:26:49

'This snake is so fast that we need to have another look, in slow-mo.'

0:26:500:26:55

Wow!

0:26:550:26:56

The way it does this is, the fangs actually have a spiral groove

0:26:570:27:01

running through the middle of them, and it propels its venom

0:27:010:27:05

at great force directly towards the eyes of its attacker.

0:27:050:27:09

And I am absolutely covered in spitting-cobra venom.

0:27:100:27:13

That is genius!

0:27:150:27:17

Venom, whether used to catch and kill

0:27:180:27:21

or paralyse and protect -

0:27:210:27:23

it's a lethal weapon and a deadly defence.

0:27:230:27:26

Join me next time for more animal encounters

0:27:330:27:35

on Deadly 60.

0:27:350:27:38

He's a monster!

0:27:380:27:39

Ow!

0:27:420:27:43

What a weird-looking crab!

0:27:430:27:45

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:27:490:27:53

E-mail [email protected]

0:27:530:27:57

Steve Backshall takes a really close look at venom. He is spat at and bitten by scorpions, spiders and snakes, all in his quest to prove that venom is one of the most lethal weapons of the animal kingdom.


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