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The Verge Review of Animals: the slow loris

The Verge Review of Animals: the slow loris


The Primate of the Flowers

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This column is part of a series where Verge staffers post highly subjective reviews of animals. Up until now, we've written about animals without telling you whether they suck or rule. We are now rectifying this oversight.

The slow loris’s large, glossy eyes make it look a little like the model on which all Disney princesses are based. Its wide, inviting stare and fuzzy belly suggest it’s cuddly. But be warned: it may be adorable, but it’s also venomous.

The slow loris is the only known venomous primate. It has two brachial glands inside its front elbows; these glands secrete a fluid that contains an allergen similar to a chemical in cat dander. When a slow loris feels threatened, it raises its arms above its head and gives those glands a lick. The glands' fluids mix with the animal's saliva to create a toxic combination. This venom then gets injected into wounds when the slow loris bites.

The slow loris is the only known venomous primate

There are anecdotes of people who have gone into anaphylactic shock after getting nipped — though, granted, it’s only potentially deadly news if you have allergies. But even if you're not allergic, a slow loris bite is unpleasant. Its teeth are incredibly sharp, and the venom emits a nasty smell, "worse than a whole box of rotten eggs." Scientists also think the venom works like an anticoagulant, preventing the wound from healing and causing it to fester.

The slow loris raises its arms above its head when in a defensive position. (International Animal Rescue)

One study suggests that the the species may have also evolved to mimic cobras — another defense mechanism for scaring off predators. When the slow loris puts its arms above its head in that fake-out surrender, the pose — combined with the dark markings on its face — gives the appearance of a cobra's hood. The slow loris has even been known to hiss when confronted.

The slow loris is fairly chill

But lethality and intimidation are usually last resorts; the slow loris is fairly chill. It makes slow, deliberate movements — like a sloth — and little noise. Its presence usually goes unnoticed by its prey, as it stays hidden and barely disturbs its surroundings. And its stealthy gait allows it to sneak up on its meals of insects, arthropods, reptiles, and small birds. That isn’t all it eats; the slow loris is omnivorous, snacking on fruits and nectars, too.

Most of the time, you'll find the slow loris in the leafy rainforests of South and Southeast Asia. But deforestation has put the slow loris on the IUCN’s threatened and endangered species list. Worse, some Cambodians believe that slow lorises have supernatural powers, such as the ability to ward off evil spirits or heal wounds. The animals are often sold — either alive or butchered — to be used in traditional medicine throughout the country.

Perhaps the main problem for the slow loris is that it's too cute. You may have seen videos pop up on YouTube recently, showing precious slow loris "pets" getting their bellies tickled or being fed rice balls. The videos make slow loris conservationists cringe. Despite the threats posed by deforestation, the species is most threatened by its inclusion in the exotic pet trade. People pay thousands of dollars to acquire slow lorises as pets, which can be bad for the animals, since they often have their teeth stripped out before they’re sold. Otherwise, owners might not find their bites so endearing.

Maybe it's not a coincidence that the slow loris is similar in name to Sir Loras, the Knight of the Flowers from Game of Thrones. Both are great to look at, but they'll cut you if you dare to cross them — and right now, both are in serious peril.

Slow Loris

Verge Score: 7.6


Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Venomous

  • Stealthy

  • Chill

Bad Stuff

  • Too damn cute

  • Poor impression of a cobra