Is the slow loris dangerous?

Is the slow loris deadly? Are they poisonous to humans?

The loveable and leisurely slow loris has a deadly secret. Lorises have toxic glands hidden on their elbows which they lick to lace their bites with poison, but it’s only dangerous to humans if the victim is allergic to the toxin. They groom themselves with this venom as a chemical defence to give their fur a nasty taste to put a predator off taking a bite.

Over a long period of time, harmless slow lorises has come to mimic the deadly cobra. Their facial colouration, the hisses they make when threatened and their snake-like slithering are all copied from cobras to warn away predators, and their venom is part of that mimicry.

The five species of slow loris live throughout the forests of Asia where their lives are spent in the upper branches of trees feeding on fruit, insects and small birds. Their vision is binocular, meaning their eyes are on the front of the face looking straight ahead. Most animals with this kind of vision are considered predators, whereas prey species such as rabbits have eyes on the side of their head to widen their field of vision. Being able to see behind you is an enormous advantage if a predator is approaching, but slow lorises can afford to focus on what’s ahead because they have a secret weapon.

For a long time the scientific community were a bit stumped as to how slow lorises came to have venom, but now we know that over thousands of years lorises have developed an amazing technique to avoid predators. Bizarrely, slow lorises have come to share some traits with deadly snakes. They make hissing sounds, have similar colouration to the cobra, possess venom and they even move in a snake-like fashion. Just having a similar appearance to a cobra is enough to prevent or at least postpone an attack, helping the slow loris escape a prowling predator looking for a quick bite.

So there you have it. This is why you see them looking extremely cute while raising their arms in videos. You probably shouldn’t try and buy a slow loris any time soon as rather than expecting tickles they are displaying a poison elbow. Videos such as these contribute to the illegal pet trade and could even fund organised crime, alongside causing distress to the animal in the long term.



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