Never Allow It To Lick You

Here are some creatures you should never allow to lick you!

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Throughout the animal kingdom, tongues are used for a wide range of purposes, like communicating, eating, and cleaning. But, as with everything in nature, there’s always a dark side. Whether it’s using those tongues as brutal bullets, spiky shredding devices, or even venom-filled killing machines! Here are some animals that you should never allow to lick you.

Dangerous Dogs

For most of us, being licked by a dog is enough to make our hearts melt, regardless of their bad breath and stringy slobber! However, for some dog owners, their pup’s lick comes with something much worse.

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Back in 2019, Marie Trainer felt unwell after returning from a vacation in the Caribbean. At first, she thought she had the flu. But, after developing a fever, nausea and backache, she went to the hospital.

Soon after arriving, her condition rapidly deteriorated. She became unconscious and was put into a medically induced coma. Her arms and legs horrifyingly turned purple as gangrene set in, cutting off the blood supply to her limbs.

The doctors were baffled. Initially, they thought she had a travel-related illness. But, seven days later, they made the shocking discovery of the true cause of her condition. It wasn’t a tropical disease, but rather it had come from her dog licking a cut on her arm.

Harmless as it may seem, the saliva of most dogs contains a bacteria called Capnocytophaga canimorsus. This bacterium normally spreads through bites, but sometimes all it takes is an innocent lick on an open wound for transmission to take place.

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To prevent the deadly infection from spreading, doctors removed the affected areas from Trainer’s body. Unfortunately, this meant amputating her arms and legs! Luckily, Capnocytophaga isn’t usually this dangerous to humans. Typically, the symptoms resemble those of the flu.

Yet, in rare cases, it’s extremely deadly, so much so that about 3 in 10 people who develop a serious Capnocytophaga infection, pass away. Sadly, that was the case for a 63-year-old German man, who also contracted the disease when he was licked by his dog.

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He went into fatal septic shock, causing several of his organs to fail after just 16 days of treatment. But remember, as lethal as these cases are, they're still extremely rare. So, keep playing with your canine companions, just make sure to wash any slobber off post play time!

Cat Got Your Tongue?

If you’ve ever been licked by a cat, you’ll know the spine-chilling sensation that comes with it. Pure as your cat’s intentions may be, their tongues feel weirdly prickly and painful. This is because a kitty’s tongue is filled with thousands of back-facing barbs called papillae. The barbs are made from keratin, the same hard protein that makes up a cat’s claws.

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Unfortunately, these papillae make a cat’s tongue as rough as sandpaper, which they use to comb and groom their fur. A bit like an inbuilt hairbrush! But that’s not all.

The dangerous bacteria Pasteurella multocida is found in up to 90% of cats’ saliva. All it takes is for one cute kitty to lick an open wound to transmit the infection. Devastatingly, that’s exactly what happened to an 80-year-old woman in Australia, after her cat licked a scratch on her arm.

The woman’s family found her unresponsive in her bed, before quickly rushing her to a hospital. She was in a coma for nine days, and then tragically passed away, just two weeks after her pet had innocently licked her.

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Though it’s not just domestic cats that have dangerous tongues. Big cats, like lions, cheetahs and tigers have tongues that are all filled with the same saliva covered spikes, except these papillae are both bigger and sharper!

A guy found that out the hard way. All it took was just a few licks from this friendly cheetah to tear the skin away from his arm and cause him to bleed. Even when these animals are being gentle, they’re still lethal!

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These dagger-like tongues aren’t for slicing open humans, however. Big cats use these pointy projections to give themselves a deep groom, helping to hide their scent from any potential prey.

The sharp papillae can also act like a meat shredder, helping to strip the flesh from the fur of their prey, all while tenderizing their meal. Who knew a single tongue could be such a deadly multitool?

Cone-iving Snails

Who do you think is the most feared carnivore of the sea? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the great white shark, killer whale, or giant octopus. Funnily enough, for a lot of animals it’s a cone snail.

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So, how exactly could a snail be one of the ocean’s deadliest predators? The answer lies beneath their beautiful exterior, where these savage snails hold a lethal secret! To reach dinner, some species of cone snail have developed a brutal method of hunting, known as hook and line.

It starts with the mollusk stretching out a tongue-like proboscis from its mouth. Then, as its proboscis reaches its prey, the cone snail shoots out a venom-coated harpoon, designed to paralyze their target, allowing these piscivorous predators to reach their dinner at a snail’s pace.

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Fortunately, humans aren’t on the menu for these snails. But that doesn’t mean a sting from one of these guys can’t be dangerous. Zaps from smaller cone snail species are about as painful as a bee sting. But the sting of some larger fish-eating species, such as the geographic cone snail can be fatal to humans.

This particular cone snail has even gained the nickname, the ‘cigarette snail’. Not because it omits smoke or has a persistent cough. Instead, it’s earned this name because when stung by this creature, humans will only have time to smoke a single cigarette before dropping dead.

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The geographic cone snail, found in the reefs of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, has venom made up of a complex cocktail containing hundreds of different toxins. In the most severe cases, the sting can cause weakness and sweating, which is soon followed by muscle paralysis and respiratory failure. If left untreated, the victim could pass away within just one hour.

In fact, it’s believed that the venom from one cone snail has the potential to kill up to 700 people. To make matters worse, the complexity of this snail’s poison has prevented scientists from developing an effective anti-venom. I think we’ve found our next Bond villain!

Vampire Fish

While they may look like something from an alien horror movie, sea lampreys are actually fish. Scary as they look, the mouth of this curious creature isn’t just designed to give humans restless nights. The suction-cupped maw of these fish is fitted with hundreds of these small teeth to dig into the flesh of prey.

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Once locked on, these parasitic predators then make use of their horrendously specialized tongue. It’s fitted with a piston-like tooth, allowing the sea lamprey to scrape a hole into its fishy prey.

After puncturing the skin with their tongue, sea lampreys secrete a mucus to prevent the host’s blood from clotting. This lets them slurp up as much of the red stuff as possible. It’s no wonder that they hold the fearsome nickname of the ‘vampire fish’.

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Sadly, many fish that fall host to these fleshy feeders are likely to die from blood loss or an infection caused by the open wounds. Luckily, vampire fish don’t tend to attack humans too. They’re adapted to feasting on cold-blooded fish, and not warm-blooded mammals, like us.

That’s not to say that attacks never happen. Some swimmers have said to be attacked by up to seven lampreys at one time! While the biting alone isn’t likely to cause humans any major blood loss, the wounds from the tongue could lead to life-threatening infections.

However, not everyone got the memo about the danger of sea lampreys. Rumor has it that former British monarch, King Henry I died after eating one too many vampire fish.

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Horrifying Hagfish

While lampreys aren’t the prettiest fish to look at, they look like a dream compared to the nightmare fuel that is the Hagfish. The eel-like fish are jawless, boneless, and come with four hearts. Disturbing as those features sound, none of them will shock you as much as its mouth.

Attached to the hagfish’s tongue-like projection are four sets of razor-sharp, teeth-like structures made from keratin, just like a cat’s! That's probably where Stranger Things got inspiration for the Demogorgon!

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When it’s time to feast on prey, such as dead fish, hagfish put these monstrous mouths to work. They shoot out their tongues and pinch their maws together to lock on to their food, before retracting the tongue into their mouth to shred their meal apart.

If that wasn’t metal enough, they’re also known to bury themselves mouth-first into fish carcasses, before gnawing a tunnel deep into the rotten flesh to eat their dinner from the inside out.

Because hagfish typically dine on dead or dying sea life, they’re no real threat to humans; alive ones at least. If a seriously injured, or deceased person was lying on the sea floor, make no mistake, these guys wouldn’t have a problem tearing them apart from the inside out!

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Cookie Cutter Killer

The adorably named cookie cutter shark may sound sweet, but don’t let that fool you. This marine monster has gained its name not for being a brilliant baker, but for gouging cookie-sized plugs of flesh out of its prey.

Despite only reaching up to 20 inches in length, these hungry hunters feast on anything they can get their mouths on, including the rubber sonar domes of submarines!

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A rubber dome with a chunk taken out of it by a cookie cutter shark. Photo courtesy of the Australian Museum

Most sharks have basihyals, which are basically tongues, which are made out of cartilage. Usually, these are immobile and pretty pointless but not the cookie cutter ones. Instead, they have a gruesome use for their tongue.

When these freaky fish latch onto their prey, they dig their spiky teeth in. They then lock on to their catch, thanks to their strong tongues, which are attached and strengthened even more by very powerful throat muscles.

The scary sharks use the incredible suction-power of their tongues to literally suck out a plug of flesh. They then rotate around the incision to slurp the flesh out of their prey. Isn’t nature beautiful?

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If the fish is lucky enough to survive the attack, they’ll be forever left with a distinctive plug-shaped hole in their side. Sort of like a cookie cutter shark tattoo.

Because these predators hunt at night in deep waters, encounters with humans are rare. However, in 2009, Mike Spalding was one of the unlucky ones, after he was attacked by a cookie cutter shark while having a night swim off the coast of Hawaii.

As he was swimming over to his friend’s kayak, the shark suctioned onto his leg. Spalding was rushed to a hospital and eventually recovered. That’s not to say that the incident didn’t scar him, literally. That’s reason enough for me to never go swimming at night!

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Raccoon Regrets

With their big eyes and little bandit masks, raccoons are pretty cute animals, except when they’re rooting through people’s garbage. But did you know that the tongue of these mischievous mammals contains a deadly bacterium that’s responsible for up to 55,000 human fatalities every year?

Rabies is found in the salvia of animals across the world, including dogs, monkeys, bats and raccoons. In the U.S alone, a staggering 30% of wild raccoons are reported to have rabies. And all it takes for transmission is for a human to have an open wound licked by a rabid raccoon.

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The initial signs of infection take place over the first few months of contamination. These symptoms include fever and headache. However, as the virus spreads, the symptoms worsen. Eventually, the infection causes inflammation of the brain and central nervous system. This can lead the sufferer to experience muscle spasms and difficulty breathing.

Strange as it sounds, there are even cases of humans with rabies developing a fear of water. This bizarre side-effect, known as hydrophobia, is triggered by the inflammation of the brain, which disturbs the cognition needed for swallowing, and leads many rabies-sufferers to froth at the mouth. Even with intensive care, survival is almost unheard of once the symptoms have presented themselves.

Not all hope is lost, though. The U.S government has been distributing oral rabies vaccines for raccoons since 1997, with the aim of making raccoons rabies-free by 2053. So, just another 30 years before we can all approach a raccoon without the fear of turning into a frothing, wheezing corpse!

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Speedy Salamander

Who do you think holds the title in the animal kingdom for most powerful tongue? You’d think it’d be something big and ferocious, like a wolf or a tiger! But surprisingly, the top tongue in the business belongs to the giant palm salamander of Central America.

This amazing amphibian can flick its tongue out around 2 ½ inches. It may not be impressive for a human, but that’s over half the giant palm salamander’s body length! That’s like an adult man sticking his tongue out over 31 inches!

Its long reach is one thing, but the speed of the giant palm salamander’s tongue, is what sets it apart from the rest. These guys can flick the full length of their tongue out in just 7 milliseconds, giving their prey no chance of escape.

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If you’re wondering, that’s about 50 times faster than an average eye blink! It’s like a magic trick, one second the bug is living its life, the next, it vanishes into thin air or rather, into the salamander’s mouth.

Unsurprisingly, this speed requires a huge amount of power. These fleshy crossbows exert 18,000 watts of power per kilogram of muscle. For contrast, when a human sprints, they output around 2,000 watts of energy. So, this little salamander spears its prey with the energy of some 9 sprinting humans. Those bugs don’t stand a chance!

Scientists believe that they’ve uncovered the science behind these bullet tongues. Unlike typical tongues which just protrude out of the mouth, giant palm salamander tongues are rapidly fired out of the mouth by a ballistic projection. Effectively, the tongue launches from their mouth, like an arrow from a bow. That’s quite the weapon to store inside your mouth!

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Luckily, there aren’t any cases of humans taking a hit from a giant palm salamander’s tongue. But I can imagine that being pelted by a tongue traveling roughly at the speed of a bullet would definitely hurt!

Brutal Birds

Despite their elegant appearance, geese are rowdy, aggressive animals who’ll stop at nothing to protect their young. Sounds terrifying enough, but that's nothing compared to the horrors these birds hold inside their mouths.

Like all birds, geese aren’t fitted with a set of teeth. To help them chew and break up their food, these waterfowl are instead armed with hundreds of small tomia on their beaks. While these may act like teeth, they’re made up of cartilage, not enamel. But tomia don’t only line their beaks, this spiky cartilage also lines the sides of their tongues!

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This makes their fleshy mouth parts hard and sharp, helping them rip apart food like seeds, vegetation, and even small fish. Luckily, humans aren’t on the menu for these boisterous birds. But that doesn’t stop them from attacking anyone who gets in their way.

And, with those sharp rows of tomia, lining their beak and tongue, even a lick from one of these waterfowl is bound to leave its mark. And just like geese, penguins have a specially adapted mouth, to cope with their lack of teeth. A penguin’s tongue is packed with sharp bristles, made of keratin.

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These backward-facing spikes help them to swallow their fishy food alive and whole without it escaping. So as cute as these animals may look from the outside, penguin tongues really are the stuff of nightmares.

Getting a lick from one of these would probably be harmless. But a bite? The force of a penguin’s beak clamping against your skin, with the added pressure of those tiny devil barbs is sure to cause a deep cut. Who knew these birds could be so gruesome?

Pacu Fish

You’d be forgiven for confusing the Pacu fish with a piranha at first glance. That is, until they open their mouths. If you thought that piranha teeth were scary, they pale in comparison to the hair-raising set of teeth that Pacu possesses.

These omnivorous fish, typically found in South America, are fitted with a disturbingly humanistic mouth, complete with a set of square, straight teeth, and flat tongue.

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Their chunky molars are designed to grind down seeds and nuts that fall into rivers from trees. And rumor has it, that they’re not the only type of nuts that these fearsome fish are into.

Back in 2013, reports spread of this fish feasting on human testicles. Luckily for any men out there, scientists have said that it’s highly unlikely that these fish are in fact ball-biters. That’s not to say they can’t be dangerous to humans, however.

In 2004, a small girl found that out first-hand. After dangling her hand in a Pacu tank, one of the tropical fish sunk their teeth into her finger, latching on even as she pulled her hand out. The crushing bite was so bad, that she needed plastic surgery to repair the wound!

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Tongue Tennant

Human teeth in a fish are scary, but even scarier is an alien-like creature, like the one in the image below, inside a fish's mouth. This fish has, what’s called a tongue-eating louse hiding between its jaws. No prizes for guessing what this critter does to its victims!

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These organisms are known as protandric hermaphrodites. This means that all tongue-eating parasites are born male, but when they’re adults the males can become females. As juveniles, these parasites, found throughout the Atlantic Ocean, enter an unknowing fish through their gills.

Eventually, one of the males turns into a female, and that’s when the horror story starts. The female crawls into the fish’s mouth and attaches herself to the host’s tongue. Once aboard, she severs the blood vessels of the tongue, causing it to drop off.

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With no fleshy muscle left to feed on, you’d presume this parasite would swim away in search of a new victim. But no, after the tongue has fallen off, the female louse will re-attach herself, becoming the fish’s new tongue. All it has to do then is sit back, enjoy the ride and help itself to free meals!

Well, that’s not all they do. Females can also mate with male lice inside the fish’s mouth. Despite all of the traumatic events they have to go through, scientists believe that the fish continue to use the parasite as if it were a prosthetic tongue! Not that they have much choice in the matter.

Demonic as it sounds, we don’t need to worry about this parasite too much. The tongue-eating louse isn’t said to be harmful to humans. Still, you can never be too far away from those petrifying parasites if only for your sanity!

Worrisome Worm

When most people think of worms, they imagine harmless invertebrates who live underground. But that’s not the case for all worms. Take the ribbon worm, for example. Not only do most of these species live in the sea, but some are also incredibly dangerous, even to humans.

To capture its prey, the ribbon worm has a specially adapted proboscis. It’s essentially an elongated, flexible sucking mouthpart, much like a tongue. This shoots out a thick, sticky mucus designed to either capture prey, or deter predators, like some sort of sea dwelling spider man!

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Several species of ribbon worms are armed with a stylet at the tip of their proboscis. Not only is this worm dagger sharp, it’s also venomous. When the worm’s stylet stabs prey, deadly toxins enter the victim’s body.

In 1998, scientists in Japan discovered that one species of ribbon worm contained extreme levels of toxicity. Mouse units are often used to quantify toxicity, with one mouse unit being the amount of toxin required to kill a standard 20g mouse in 15 minutes. The Cephalothrix simula species was found to hold around 6,000 mouse units of tetrodotoxin, or TTX.

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If you were wondering, that’s a lot, considering that it only takes 10,000 mouse units of TTX to wipe out a human! TTX binds to the membranes inside bodily cells, called sodium channels, interfering with the transmission of signals from nerves to muscles. This halts the body’s ability to control nerve impulses to perform actions, like contracting muscles.

When consumed, even in small amounts, TTX can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and paralysis of the muscles, including heart muscles, which can lead to respiratory arrest! I think it’s safe to say that these worms are pretty deadly.

Luckily, there haven’t been any cases of a human falling victim to one of these worrisome worms, but I’d strongly advise you to steer clear of them regardless. Oh, and definitely don’t let them shoot that spaghetti mucus on your hand if only because of how gross it looks!

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Lingual Lure

The alligator snapping turtle found in the U.S is a fearsome predator. It can weigh up to 200 pounds, is fitted with a spiky armored shell, and holds one of the most forceful bites in the animal kingdom. But its most deadly weapon of all is its tongue.

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At first sight the small, pink tongue appears pretty futile. However, to catch its prey, this turtle, lies against the riverbed, keeping its body stone still. The only movement it makes is the wriggling motion of its tongue.

Confusing this decoy for a juicy worm, the snapping turtle’s prey will unknowingly swim into the reptile’s mouth before being devoured.

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The alligator snapping turtle has a bite force of around 1,000 PSI. PSI, or pound force per square inch is the measure of pressure from a force exerted onto one square inch of space. Unsurprisingly, the higher the PSI, the more painful the bite. And it turns out, that the alligator snapping turtle has a very painful bite indeed.

In fact, the PSI of their bite applies around ten times more pressure compared to when a human chomps down. If that wasn’t fearsome enough, these ravenous reptiles are also fitted with a crushing bony beak, designed to tear apart anything that comes near their mouth.

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Sounds like good reason for animals to keep your distance from these prehistoric-looking predators. But apparently some people just don’t listen.

Back in 2018, investigators were stunned after finding something strange inside the stomach of an alligator snapping turtle. It wasn’t the usual prey of these animals, but a human finger! Sounds like someone was stupid enough to get a little too close to Mr. Snappy turtle’s wormy tongue.

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If you were amazed at these animals that you should never allow to lick you, you might want to read this article about animals that evolved to eat deadly food. Thanks for reading!

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