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10 Venomous Pets That Are Legal to Own

Melissa holds a Bachelor's Degree in Biology and is a plant and animal enthusiast with multiple pets.

The idea of a venomous animal generally elicits fear, and some people might think that keeping one as a pet is just plain reckless. Aside from deadly species of venomous snakes however, most other venomous animals that are legal to keep as pets are not as dangerous as people think.

Fatalities are possible even with venomous animals such as bees, hornets, and wasps. Since we live with venomous animals on a daily basis, there is no reason why these species can't be reasonably owned as pets.

venomous-pets-that-are-legal

1. Gila Monster

  • Common as a pet?: Rare compared to other lizards
  • Legality: Mostly illegal within their native range (Sonoran Desert areas) and other states that ban venomous reptiles
  • Venom toxicity: Causes mainly localized pain

The Gila monster is one of the only truly venomous lizards in the world (the other is the similar-looking beaded lizard). These beautiful and unique reptiles may spend around 80% of their day immobile in underground burrows [12] but are the most active in the spring months due to the availability of bird and turtle eggs, which is their favorite food [14].

These lizards, while they are quite venomous, will not bite unless they are harassed in the wild [14]. In fact, there has never been a recorded fatality due to a Gila monster bite (there have been serious incidents that could have resulted in death) [12].

As pets, in the states where they are legal, they must be purchased from captive breeders, and these lizards are likely more docile than wild ones.

While some people believe these lizards are bad pets due to their tendency to hide most of the day and their venom [1], others may see them as great pets with low demand for space (they are inactive most of the day and may fare well in a 40-gallon terrarium), reasonable temperature gradient (75F on the cool end and 80-95F on the hot end), and their uniqueness. The beaded lizard has similar care requirements to the Gila monster except they may need more height and humidity [12].

venomous-pets-that-are-legal

2. Blue-Ring Octopus

  • Common as a pet?: All octopuses are uncommonly owned as pets.
  • Legality: Most likely legal in most states
  • Venom toxicity: Can cause respiratory failure

These small, beautiful, octopuses hail from the shores of Australia and are the most deadly species of cephalopod. Despite this, they are sometimes kept in the home aquarium.

Within their saliva is a tetrodotoxin which can cause muscle paralysis, including the diaphragm, which can result in respiratory failure in humans, but is mainly used to subdue prey like crabs [8]. Despite this danger, a person would need to significantly harass the tiny creature to get bitten, such as picking it up.

The only recorded fatalities involved direct handling, and many bite reports have not resulted in fatalities when medical intervention and respiratory support was administered. In some bite reports, victims did not even experience respiratory distress [8].

Despite this, obviously, owners of blue ring octopuses should exercise extreme caution. Octopuses in general are known to be excellent escape artists, and should someone unfamiliar with their toxicity pick it up, a tragedy could occur.

These small octopuses are also short-lived (2 years), are all wild-caught, and many die during transport for the home aquarium [2].

There are some compelling reasons to skip over this species as a pet.

venomous-pets-that-are-legal

3. Tarantulas

  • Common as a pet?: Popular and common for a pet arthropod
  • Legality: Most likely legal in most states
  • Venom toxicity: For most pet species, non-severe localized pain

Many people are afraid of spiders, and some spider species are capable of killing humans, but fatalities due to tarantula bites are rare, and those species which are kept as pets carry almost no risk.

These animals are not inclined to bite unless harassed. Generally, tarantula bites will result in redness, swelling, and localized pain. Tarantulas have the ability to launch tiny hairs at their attackers, which may cause more discomfort than their bite [5].

There are many different types of tarantulas that can be owned as pets with different levels of toxicity. One species, Poecilotheria regalis, or the Indian ornamental tree spider, caused one man to receive severe muscle cramps after biting him, which he had to go to the ER for [10]. The popular Mexican red knee tarantula, however, has a bite similar to a bee sting.

venomous-pets-that-are-legal

4. Stingrays

  • Common as a pet?: Uncommonly kept in private aquariums
  • Legality: Most likely legal in most states
  • Venom toxicity: Causes severe pain

Stingrays are an impressive addition to a large home marine aquarium, although they are not considered to be a species for novice owners. At the end of the stingray's long tail is at least one venomous, barbed spine that can be used to cause serious pain to people, although they are gentle creatures, only stinging defensively if they are provoked.

The most common way people get stung by stingrays is to step on them unknowingly. A sting from a stingray is not usually fatal, although if the barb from a large species punctures more critical areas, such as the neck or torso, there can be a more serious outcome [7] (famously, such as what caused Steve Irwin's death). In the home aquarium, this risk is negligible.

Popular species that people keep include the blue dot (above), Haller's, and freshwater stingray species.

venomous-pets-that-are-legal

5. Sea Anemones

  • Common as a pet?: Popular in saltwater home aquariums
  • Legality: Most likely legal in most states
  • Venom toxicity: Aquarium species are harmless to humans.

Sea anemones are animals that belong to the phylum Cnidaria along with jellyfish, corals, and hydroids. Most species are not dangerous to humans, however, some, such as the snakelocks anemone (Anemonia Viridis) can cause severe toxic skin reactions in some cases [15].

In the home aquaria, commonly kept species have venom only extremely toxic to their prey, and they are popular in marine tanks, often paired with different species of the iconic clownfish, which sometimes (although not always) host certain species. Popular species that clownfish are most likely to host include the bubbletip anenome (Entacmaea quadricolor), carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni), and Sebae Anemone (Heteractis crispa).

6. Scorpions

  • Common as a pet?: Relatively popular for pet arthropods.
  • Legality: Most pet species legal in most states.
  • Venom toxicity: Localized mild pain to potentially deadly depending on species

There are many different species of scorpion and all of them are venomous, and while the stings of most species would only cause pain similar to that of a bee sting [4] (bees also have venom), other species have caused a significant number of human fatalities.

Thankfully, death by a scorpion in the U.S. is a rare occurrence overall (only 4 deaths have occurred in 11 years, but it is a much more significant problem in underdeveloped countries [13]), however, handlers of these animals should always exercise caution.

By far, the most popular species people keep as pets is the emperor scorpion which rarely stings, but many different species can be obtained online, including the Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus) which is the most venomous species in the United States, and the deathstalker (Leiurus quinquestriatus) which is the most dangerous scorpion due to its potent venom [3].

venomous-pets-that-are-legal

7. Rear-Fanged Snakes

  • Common as a pet?: Popular depending on species
  • Legality: Hognose and pet species are legal in most states.
  • Venom toxicity: Extremely mild to relatively potent

Front-fanged snake (elapids and vipers) species like cobras, mambas, and rattlesnakes are well-known as highly venomous animals, but less popularly known are the rear-fanged snakes, one of which is a very commonly-owned species that is considered good for beginners, the hognose snake. As the name suggests, their fangs are in the back, which means they have to "chew" on humans to inject a lot of venom.

Hognose snakes rarely bite, but there are some bite incidents where edema, redness, blister formation, and cellulitis were reported [9]. There are other species of rear-fanged snakes that are kept as pets, however, where avoiding bites is recommended. The barons racer, false water cobra, and Asian vine snakes have varying levels of potency.

venomous-pets-that-are-legal

8. Scorpion Fish

  • Common as a pet?: Lionfish are popular in home saltwater aquariums
  • Legality: Legal in most states
  • Venom toxicity: Intense pain

More than 50% of the world's venomous vertebrates are fish, and scorpion fish (Family Scorpaenidae) are probably the most famous examples. All members of this family possess venomous spines on their dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins.

One of the members, the stonefish, is the most venomous fish in the world, although fatalities caused by even this species are very rare. Lionfish have the least potent venom, and generally cause a burning pain should an aquarist get stung. Other symptoms may include headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cardiac arrhythmias, chest pain, and others [11].

venomous-pets-that-are-legal

9. Giant Centipedes

  • Common as a pet?: Moderately common in the arthropod pet trade
  • Legality: Most likely legal in most states
  • Venom toxicity: Severe pain

Giant centipedes are kept as pets by arthropod enthusiasts despite their apparent painful bites. These animals are able to subdue prey that is many times larger than themselves. Their toxin works in small animals by preventing the brain to signal the heart to beat, causing rapid death [16].

The giant Vietnamese centipede is a popular species that can be kept, but it is notorious for its painful bite. However, centipedes rarely cause human fatalities.

venomous-pets-that-are-legal

10. Long-Spined Sea Urchin

  • Common as a pet?: Less common than other sea urchins
  • Legality: Legal in most or all states
  • Venom toxicity: Causes swelling and moderate pain that dissipates quickly.

Despite their prickly appearance, not all sea urchins can harm humans. There are some exceptions, however. The long-spined sea urchin is venomous, producing an effect that is said to feel like a bad bee sting, and it is sometimes kept in the home aquarium, despite this ability.

It is rather large, so smaller sea urchins are more popularly kept. Sometimes, the spines can break off and stay latched in human skin, which can cause more problems [6].

Works Cited

  1. Backwater Reptiles. Do Gila Monsters Make Good Pets?.
  2. Caldwell, Roy. So why should you NOT buy a blue-ringed octopus?
  3. Ceceli, A. and J. Horsfield 2012. "Leiurus quinquestriatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 17, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Leiurus_quinquestriatus/
  4. Cheng, David et al. Scorpion Envenomation. 2018.
  5. Dominguez, Karen. Tarantula Bites and Scorpion Stings Just How Dangerous Are They?.
  6. Gelman, Yana, and Heather M. Murphy-Lavoie. "Sea Urchin Toxicity." (2019).
  7. Gotter, Anna and Luo, Elaine. Stingray Sting: What You Should Know. June 19, 2018.
  8. Jacups, Susan P., and Bart J. Currie. "Blue-ringed octopuses: a brief review of their toxicology." Northern Territory Naturalist 20 (2008): 50.
  9. Kato, Kasumi, Hiroshi Kato, and Akimichi Morita. "A case of Western hognose snake bite." Journal of Cutaneous Immunology and Allergy 2.1 (2019): 37-38.
  10. Pappas, Stephanie. Some Tarantula Bites More Harmful Than Thought. December 09, 2013
  11. Rensch, Gage, and Heather M. Murphy-Lavoie. "Lionfish, Scorpionfish, And Stonefish Toxicity." StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing, 2019.
  12. ReptileMountain.TV. Gila Monster Captive Care - Ep. 55
  13. Selmane, S., H. El Hadj, and L. Benferhat. "The impact of climate variables on the incidence of scorpion stings in humans in M’Sila’s Province in Algeria." Proceedings of the World Congress on Engineering. Vol. 1. 2014.
  14. Spiess, Petra. The Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum) Captive Care and Breeding.
  15. Tezcan, Özgür Deniz, and Özgür Gözer. "Severe toxic skin reaction caused by a common anemone and identification of the culprit organism." Journal of Travel Medicine 22.4 (2015): 269-271.
  16. Yirka, Bob. Toxin in centipede venom identified. January 23, 2018

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Melissa A Smith