4. Cunning Charm Cute faces and furry coats makes mammals the most popular pets throughout the world. Yet some mammals possess a poisonous secret weapon. In Australia there lurks a very strange animal. The duckbilled platypus is perhaps the most bizarre mammal on earth. Not only does it lay eggs, but it also has poisonous spurs concealed under its hind limbs. All platypuses are born with these spurs, but after sexual maturity they are only retained by the males. Platypuses never attack humans. But people who handle these strange creatures have been known to suffer a painful and long lasting sting. The short tailed shrew is a common Northern American mammal that appears small, harmless and even cute. Yet it is the most notorious of venomous mammals. Its saliva contains neurotoxins that immobilise prey much larger than itself. This pint sized predator must eat constantly to stay alive. Its toxic saliva helps it to feed more quickly. Deep in the jungles of South East Asia, scientists have discovered another venomous mammal. The Slow loris is a poisonous gremlin of the night. As its name suggests, its too slow to run from predators. So instead, it coats itself in a toxic saliva that makes it both unpalatable and poisonous to anything that takes a bite. Babies are coated with this saliva so they can be safely left home “alone” whilst their mothers are off hunting for food. This incredibly smelly skunk has the best chemical deterrent of all ammals… …ideal for deterring a ferocious mountain lion. In America they thrive in urban areas. The skunks’ defence system makes it the most noxious mammal that most humans are ever likely to encounter. But there is a disease that can turn your favourite pet into a killer. 30,000 people die from rabies each year. They usually contract the virus from pet dogs and cats, which have been bitten or scratched by rabid wild mammals. Infected animals foam at the mouth and become aggressive. In humans untreated rabies causes fever and disorientation. Then comes fear of water, inability to swallow and ultimately paralysis and death. In South America rabies is carried by a particularly sinister creature. Vampire bats usually feed on the blood of both wild and domestic animals. But occasionally they feed on sleeping humans. It’s not serious, but if the bat is rabid, it could be the kiss of death.