Original Paper

Marine Biology

, Volume 159, Issue 3, pp 689-695

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Death in the octopus’ garden: fatal blue-lined octopus envenomations of adult green sea turtles

  • Kathy A. TownsendAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland Email author 
  • , Jens AltvaterAffiliated withIndependent Marine Biochemistry Research
  • , Michael C. ThomasAffiliated withIndependent Marine Biochemistry Research
  • , Qamar A. SchuylerAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland
  • , Geoffrey W. NetteAffiliated withIndependent Marine Biochemistry Research


The blue-lined octopus Hapalochlaena fasciata contains the powerful neuromuscular blocker tetrodotoxin (TTX), which causes muscle weakness and respiratory failure. H. fasciata is regarded as one of the most venomous marine animals in the world, and multiple human fatalities have been attributed to the octopus. To date, there have been no recorded incidents of an envenomation of a wild animal. Here, we present a newly developed, multi-stage tandem mass spectrometry technique that provides unequivocal evidence for two cases of envenomation of two ~110 kg herbivorous green sea turtles by two tiny cryptic blue-lined octopuses (~4 cm body length). These cases of accidental ingestion provide evidence for the first time of the antipredator effect of TTX and highlight a previously unconsidered threat to turtles grazing within seagrass beds.