Tourist picks up blue-ringed octopus
A video of a tourist picking up a dangerous blue-ringed octopus has gone viral.
A shy and tiny, but lethal animal, has once again caused panic after a video uploaded to Reddit showed a tourist holding a blue-ringed octopus in their uncovered hand.
The video was captioned "what a pretty octopus" written in Mandarin as the unsuspecting beachgoer handled and filmed the brightly coloured sea creature.
Marine ecology expert Michael Keough from the University of Melbourne said picking up an octopus exposes the hand to the beak, a few millimetres-long horny barb located on the bottom of the octopus between its tentacles.
"It can only bite if it's on top of something," he said.
Designed to pierce the exoskeletons of crabs, the octopus's beak releases a neurotoxin from its glands that causes paralysis, causing its prey to stop breathing and die "within an hour".
Mr Keough said that ordinarily the blue ringed octopus is shy and does not pose a threat if left alone. The animal is nocturnal, mostly hiding during the day and looking for food at night.
"When there has been a problem with them [blue ringed octopus], it's usually because someone's doing something pretty silly with them."
Children are at risk as they are attracted to the bright colours of the octopus. Earlier this month, the lethal creature made headlines when an 11-year-old escaped injury after picking up an octopus while snorkelling in Sydney's south.
"Amy was pretty okay about it the whole time though; she thought it was beautiful," the girl's mother told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Deaths caused by the strong, fast-acting toxin are few and far between, with the Australian Institute of Marine Science recording only two fatalities in Australia and one in Singapore.
Senior lecturer Kenneth Winkel at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health said not all bites result in death, as some people may only feel tingling in their lips.
"Sometimes people get a bite and don't develop any clinical effects," he said.
Blue-ringed octopuses are small, with an arm span between 12 and 20 centimetres. They are found in coastal waters in many parts of Australia, particularly in the south-east.
There is currently no anti-venom for blue ringed octopus bites, as they are so rare.
"Very few people are affected by blue ringed octopuses each year so there's no commercial imperative," said Mr Winkel.
Experts encourage beachgoers to remain vigilant when wading through rock pools as the octopus can hide under shells.
"If you see an octopus with bright blue rings, enjoy it but don't touch it. They're beautiful little animals," Mr Keough said.