Particle 101: Venom

A handy guide to some of the ways Western Australian animals can kill you
Owen Cumming
Owen Cumming
Science Communicator
Particle 101: Venom

If there’s one thing Australia is famous for it’s wanting to kill you. Sharks in the ocean, crocs in the river and the sun trying to grill you like a scotch fillet.  

But of all Australia’s deadly denizens, the most infamous are our creeping, crawling, slithering, scuttling, biting, stinging venomous creatures.  

Venom is a toxin that’s injected by a bite or sting, and it has two purposes: to attack prey and to defend from predators. But while all venoms might share a purpose, not all venoms are the same.  

These toxic concoctions come in a variety of fatal flavours, each with its own charming way of un-aliving you. So let’s explore some of the ways that you might die on your next stroll through the WA wilderness.  


The first variety of venom you might encounter is haemotoxins.  

Literally ‘blood toxins’, haemotoxins attack the red blood cells and blood vessels of their unfortunate victims. This prevents oxygen from being carried to vital organs, and the same time, you begin bleeding internally. It’s quite bad for you. 

In WA, this delightful toxin can be found in the venom of tiger snakes, one of the most common snakes in Australia. Yay. 

View Larger

Tiger snake

Image credit: Tiger Snake. by Laurie R B is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Tiger snake


Next on the list are myotoxins. These are favoured by venom users with a ‘work-smarter-not-harder’ life philosophy.  A myotoxin user may ask themselves why chase down your prey when you can simply stop their muscles from working at all?  

Myotoxins break down muscle fibres near where the venom has been injected. No muscle, no moving. That means no running away for prey and no attacking for predators. Sometimes, the best plans really are the simplest.  

These muscle-messing mixes can be found in WA’s resident mulga snakes. Also known as king brown snakes, it’s no wonder they have such a regally prudent approach to envenomation. 

View Larger

Mulga snake

Image credit: Mulga Snake Pseudechis australis by Scott Eipper is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Mulga snake


Cardiotoxins are a more exacting choice of venom. This discerning toxin doesn’t concern itself with attacking just any muscle. Cardiotoxins specifically break down the plasma and muscles of the heart. How heartbreaking. 

This heartless venom is used by a surprisingly brainless WA marine predator, the box jellyfish. Fancy a swim? 

Venomous box jellyfish
View Larger

Box jellyfish

Image credit: Box Jellyfish 1 by thedingostrategy is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Box jellyfish


Last on our list, but by no means least, are neurotoxins.

Fast and effective, neurotoxins attack the nervous system connecting our body to our brain. Without nerves, you can’t really do … anything. Neurotoxins prevent the brain from telling the body to move, feel, see, hear or even breathe.  

Their effectiveness also seems to have made neurotoxins quite a popular choice among venom connoisseurs. In WA, neurotoxins are used by redback spiders, scorpions, cone snails, blue ringed octopuses, Irukandji and many types of snakes.  

Now I’m feeling nervous.  

Blue Ringed octopuses are venomous
View Larger

Blue ringed octopus

Image credit: Blue Ringed Octopus by Stephen Childs is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Blue ringed octopus


If this list of venoms has made you feel uncomfortable, it’s worth remembering there’s a very good chance you’ll never be injected with any of them. 

Instead, you might encounter one of the many, many types of venoms that aren’t on this list, like vasculotoxins, necrotoxins, coagulotoxins, cytotoxins or crinotoxins

So don’t worry.

Owen Cumming
About the author
Owen Cumming
Owen is a science communicator with a background in ecology and evolutionary biology. Owen enjoys surfing, hiking and convincing himself that his terrible woodworking has a "rustic" look. He firmly believes that quokkas' smiles imply malicious intent.
View articles
Owen is a science communicator with a background in ecology and evolutionary biology. Owen enjoys surfing, hiking and convincing himself that his terrible woodworking has a "rustic" look. He firmly believes that quokkas' smiles imply malicious intent.
View articles


We've got chemistry, let's take it to the next level!

Get the latest WA science news delivered to your inbox, every fortnight.


Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.


You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.


Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.


All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.


For more information about using our content, email us:

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy