When you think of poisonous animals, you generally think of snakes, spiders and various marine life like pufferfish. Some people may think of some of the odder poisonous animals like poison dart frogs and the platypus. But who would ever think of a beautiful black and orange bird?
But if you asked those that live on Papua New Guinea, they would be quick to tell you to stay away from the hooded pitohui, (Pitohui dichrous), pronounced pit-eww-ease.
In 1989, John Dumbacher, Chairman and Assistant Curator of the Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy at the California Academy of Sciences, traveled to Papua New Guinea where he became aware of their unique poisonous bird. They were conducting field research on the Raggiana bird of paradise. They were using nets to catch the birds, but not unexpectedly, they also netted other birds.
Dumbacher described the first time he tried to free one of the hooded pitohui from the nets, saying:
It was all very accidental. I was in Papua New Guinea with a team of folks studying Raggiana birds of paradise. We had many mist nets scattered in the forest for catching the birds of paradise, but we caught many other birds as well. One day, several hooded pitohuis were in a net.
These are large birds that can cut your hands, and as I struggled to free them, they bit and scratched my hands. These little scratches really stung, so I just put my fingers in my mouth to clean the cut, and after a minute or so my lips and tongue began to tingle and burn. After this happened to one of our volunteers, we put the stories together and wondered whether it was possible if the bird was the source of the tingling. The next time we caught a pitohui, we tasted a feather, and there was the tingling burning sensation – and the toxin. When we asked the local guides, they all seemed to know about this.
After further investigation, they discovered that these birds contain a toxin known as batrachotoxin. This is the same toxin found in poison dart frogs. The toxin is in their feathers, muscles and virtually all body tissue. A high enough dose of batrachotoxin can cause muscle paralysis, cardiac arrest and death.
As they studied the amount of toxin in the hooded pitohui, they discovered that the degree of toxicity varied from bird to bird and within each bird. Further study revealed that the birds developed their toxic bodies by feeding on melyrid beetles which contain the batrachotoxin. But what the scientists have yet to figure out is how the birds are not affected by the toxin themselves, especially since some birds contain a very strong dose of it in their tissues.
Dumbacher and others have yet to provide an evolutionary explanation for how the hooded pitohui evolved the ability to eat the toxic beetles without being poisoned themselves. As Dumbacher explained:
These toxins would poison most other birds, so first you would have to evolve some resistance to the toxin yourself, and only afterward could it be of some use in defence.
Also, most birds have other defences – such as flying – to get away from predators. If you were a brightly coloured, defenceless frog sitting in the leaf litter, there might be more pressure to come up with alternative defences.
If you believe in evolution, you have to ask yourself how many of these birds died eating the toxic beetles before they eventually evolved the immunity to it. You also have to ask what benefit was it for them to continue to eat the deadly beetles and die before they evolved the immunity.
These are difficult questions for evolutionists because there can’t be any good answers for them. The only possible explanation is that God designed certain animals like the hooded pitohui and poison dart frogs to be able to eat the toxic beetles without dying and causing themselves to become toxic as well. No other explanation makes sense, nor should it.
Crew, Becky. Hooded Pitohui – The Toxic Songbird, Cosmos Magazine, January 3, 2012.
Lambert, Frank. Wild Fact #821 – Flying Venom – Hooded Pitohui, Wild Facts, April 30, 2010.
Pochron, Sharon. Can’t Touch This: Unusual Venomous Creatures, Science News For Kids, March 11, 2012.
By Dr. Jonathan Sarfati
Today, the ID (intelligent design) movement is capturing headlines (and igniting controversy) around the world. But in the process, many are coming to think that a credible challenge to the dominant Darwinian naturalism of our time means backing away from a clear stand for the truth of the Bible.
Now creationist heavyweight Jonathan Sarfati, whose Refuting Evolution has the most copies in print of any creation book ever, challenges this mindset head on. In the process, By Design is set to become a classic of the creation movementin the same vein as Dr Sarfatis comprehensive Refuting Compromise, which is arguably the most powerful biblical and scientific defense of straightforward Genesis in existence.
Paperback, 150 pages