Godzilla is known for his atomic breath, a weaponized nuclear exhalation that forms deep inside the beast's belly. There aren't any animals who turn their mouths into radioactive heat rays, but there are lots who throw, spit, project, or heave things from their mouths. Here are five amazing real life mouth weapons.
Spitballs Made of Poison
If you ever find yourself in the company of a spitting cobra – there are 12 species in total, all of the genus Naja – try to stay more than six feet away. That's about the distance they're capable of launching their projectile neurotoxic spitball, and they can do it with terrifying accuracy. At that distance, they can hit your eyes 9 times out of 10.
Juvenile Naja atra. (Source)
According to National Geographic, "the red Mozambique spitting cobra and the black-necked spitting cobra deliberately aim for the eyes of whomever or whatever they feel threatened by." The term spitting, though, is a bit misleading, since the launch is actually achieved by "squeezing venom as a fine jet out of the forward-turning venom channels in the fangs, by forcible contraction of the masseter muscles."
Getting spitting cobra venom in your eye isn't just a minor irritation. "The effect of indirect exposure to snake venom on the ocular surface," according to a pair of UCLA doctors who treated two men who had been envenomated, "appears to manifest as periocular soft tissue swelling, extensive conjunctivitis, and corneal epithelial erosion." Here's what corneal epithelial erosion means in plain English: the outer layer cells on your eyeball melt away, exposing the more delicate inner layers, along with nerves within the cornea. Leaving your nerves exposed, as you might expect, is among the most excruciatingly painful thing you can ever have happen to you. Even with medical treatment, you can have permanent damage to your vision, as one was the case for one of the two men described by the UCLA team. He had a long-term decrease in visual acuity in the affected eye. (Photo via Wilderness & Environmental Medicine.)
Vomit As Chemical Warfare
You probably know that camels spit to disgust their opponents, but you might not know that camel spit is actually more like camel puke, with a little saliva mixed in. But camels are perhaps the least interesting when it comes to animal throw-up.
When you're a tiny little bird, you're an easy snack for a predator. If you're not big or strong enough to defeat your foe in overt combat, perhaps a little chemical warfare might do the trick. That's what the Eurasian roller (Coracias garrulus; image source) does. These birds are insectivores, and one of their favorite foods is grasshoppers. Scientists know that when insects like grasshoppers are threatened they secrete noxious chemicals, derived from the plants that they eat, in an effort to live another day. According to recent research published in PLoS ONE, the Eurasian rollers manage to store up some of those same noxious chemicals when they eat the grasshoppers. And when they're disturbed, they vomit up an orange chemical acid bomb. Not only does it keep predators away, but the nestlings' parents can also detect it and approach smelly nests more cautiously, as if anticipating some trouble.
The American Turkey vulture has a similar trick. When a predator approaches the carrion eaters' nests, the adults puke up some foul smelling partially-digested carrion meat. If the predator is in the so-called splash zone, it just might get some vulture barf in its face or eyes, resulting in a nasty stinging sensation to boot.
A type of petrel called a Fulmar is a seabird that spits up a bright orange oil as a defensive maneuver. Like the other spitters, it's amazingly accurate within six feet. The Fulmars extract the oily substance from their own prey, and use it to attack their enemies. The oil mats together the feathers of their predators and destroys their water-proofing features. Birds who get attacked by the oily Fulmar vomit can die from becoming too cold or from drowning. At Tetrapod Zoology, Darren Naish explains further. "There are cases where sea-eagles have died after being squirted by fulmars [and] about another 20 species are known to have been killed as well, including herons, gulls, owls, falcons, crows and a few unfortunate small passerines[.] A fulmar kept in captivity with gulls and auks managed to kill five of them by soaking them with oil." (Photo source.)
A Cigarette A Day Keeps The Spiders Away
Speaking of mouth-spewing chemical warfare, there's this caterpillar's toxic breath. At first, researchers didn't understand how the tobacco hornworm manages to survive by spending its larval stage gobbling up tobacco plants, which happen to be fairly toxic. It turns out that they use the nicotine inside the plants as a defense mechanism to keep away wolf spiders and other critters who would turn them into a nice, juicy meal. The nicotinic compound is secreted through the caterpillar's skin in what the researchers call "defensive halitosis." Which is just a fancy way of saying "bad breath."
Physics-Defying Mouth Bullets
If there's a creature that should terrify you, it's the archerfish. Like the spitting cobra, archerfish are actually a group of seven freshwater species, all of the genus Toxotes. Also like the spitting cobra, they aim their oral projectiles with impressive accuracy. They're fairly diminutive fish, but they have a secret weapon. They spit out mouth bullets made of water to stun their prey.
Even more incredible, they direct their water bullets to prey that is above the water's surface, on nearby plants, with stunning accuracy. After they hit an insect and it falls to the water, they can swim over and grab it in as little as one tenth of a second. But there's more. Since they're underwater, and their prey is above the water, they have to adjust the trajectory of their mouth ammunition to account for the way that water bends light. And they also correct for gravity, knowing that their projectiles will trace a parabolic, rather than linear, path! And they use fluid dynamics to manipulate the water jet so that it actually accelerates, despite the fact that it's working against gravity. As Wired Science blogger Aatish Bhatia explains, "the archerfish hunts with a working knowledge of motion, gravity, optics, and fluid dynamics, effortlessly solving problems that might keep a physics student up at night." Be sure to read his excellent post explaining the physics behind the archerfish's amazing mouth bullets.
Ballistic Tongue Missiles
If you thought frogs were good with their tongues, you haven't heard about chameleons yet. They're not just masters of disguise, able to alter their skin coloration to blend in with the background. They also have weaponized tongues.
Chameleons – a family of some 160 species – can extend their tongues as far as one and a half times their own body length in order to snatch up their prey, and they do it with style. They expel their tongues out of their mouths using a supersonic explosion, shooting forward at a speed of 500 meters per second. To put that into context, that's more than 1100 miles per hour, faster than the speed of sound. That's also just a bit faster than the Earth itself rotates. Lungless salamanders, by the way, have a similar strategy.