Did you know that the slow loris is the only primate that is venomous? OK, get all of your spouse jokes out now. Finished? It turns out that in a bizarre Darwinian twist, the slow loris may have developed colorings and a hiss to go along with its poisonous bite in an attempt to fool its predators by mimicking a cobra.
Slow lorises are found mainly in South and Southeast Asia. They create their venom by first licking a gland on the inside of their elbows, which probably makes them one of the few primates who can lick their own elbows (I’ll bet you’re trying it right now). The secretion is mixed with saliva and injected into a victim with a bite by a tooth comb, a set of incisors in the lower jaw whose main purpose is grooming. The venomous bite is extremely painful to humans and can cause scarring and potential death from anaphylactic shock.
When threatened, lorises will hiss, squirm like a snake and put their arms over their heads in a posture that looks like spectacled cobra in strike position. According to a paper published in the Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases (the scariest publication name ever), this is an evolutionary development.
Slow loris expert Anna Nekaris, the director of Oxford Brookes University’s Little Fireface Project, says in the report that that the cobras and slow lorises lived in the same area eight million years ago. As the rain forests disappeared due to climate changes, the lorises were forced out into the open and onto the ground, where it appears they developed the snake impression to survive.
Unfortunately, the cobra pose and poisonous bite is not enough to keep the pet trade away from slow lorises and severely reducing their population. Through the Little Fireface Project, Nekaris hopes to educate the public on how the loris’ venom and behavior evolved as well as how these unique creatures can be saved.