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Ranked: Biotoxins in Nature, by Lethal Dose

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Biotoxins: Poisons of the Natural World

Biotoxins are harmful substances that come from living organisms.

They can take many forms, from the venom of a snake or spider to the neurotoxins produced by certain types of algae or microbes.

In the infographic above, we look at some common biotoxins in the natural world and rank them based on how deadly they are to an average 70 kg (154 lb) human being.

Ranking Biotoxins on a Toxic Scale

A basic concept in toxicology is that “only the dose makes the poison”. Everyday harmless substances like water have the potential to be lethal when consumed in large enough concentrations. Measuring a lethal dosage is very difficult.

First, living things are complex: factors like size, diet, biochemistry, and genetics vary across species. This makes it difficult to qualify toxicity in a universal way.

Second, individual factors like age or sex can also affect how deadly a substance is. This is why children have different doses for medications than adults.

Third, how a poison is taken into the body (orally, intravenously, dermally, etc.) can also impact its deadliness.

As a result, there are many ways to measure and rank toxicity, depending on what substance or organism is under investigation. Median lethal dose (LD50) is one common way for measuring toxicity. LD50 is the dose of a substance that kills 50% of a test population of animals. It is commonly reported as mass of substance per unit of body weight (mg/kg or g/kg). In the graphic above, we curate LD50 data of some select biotoxins found in nature and present them on a scale of logarithmic LD50 values.

What’s surprising is just how potent some toxins can be.

Bits and Bites about Biotoxins

While one would think that biotoxins are avoided at all costs by humans, the reality is more complicated. Here are some interesting facts about biotoxins present in nature, and our unusual relationships with the organisms that create them:

1. Fungi and molds make poisons called mycotoxins
Mycotoxins are a global problem. They affect crops from many countries, and can cause significant economic losses for farmers and food producers.

2. Phytotoxins can defend plants…and attack cancer
Plants use phytotoxins to defend themselves other organisms, like humans. Urushiol, for example, is the main toxic component in the leaves of poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac. But the Pacific yew tree produces taxol that’s valuable in chemotherapy treatments.

3. Fire salamander toxin is an ingredient in Slovenian whisky
Though not widely available, some whisky makers in Slovenia use samandarine from the fire salamander to create a psychedelic alcohol.

4. Ciguatoxins exist in the guts of reef fish
Very unique species of bacteria living in the digestive tract of reef fishes make ciguatoxin. They transmit this poison to other organisms when the host fish is eaten.

5. Pufferfish are deadly, but also delicious
Pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin in their ovaries, liver, and skin called tetrodotoxin. Despite being a delicacy in many countries around the world, it has a lot of strict regulations because of its ability to kill people. In Japan, for example, only specially licensed chefs can prepare pufferfish for consumption.

6. Batrachotoxin is lethal to the touch
The skin of some poison dart frogs secretes a deadly substance called batrachotoxin. It is so potent that simply touching the poison can be fatal. Indigenous people of Central and South America used batrachotoxin to poison the tips of hunting weapons for centuries.

7. Botox contains the most deadly biotoxin known
Commercial botox uses an extremely small amount of biotoxin from a microbe called Clostridium botulinum. It paralyzes the muscles, preventing contraction (i.e. wrinkling). It is the deadliest known biotoxin on Earth. One gram of botulinum toxin can kill up to one million people.

Caveats of Measuring and Reporting Biotoxicity

While we use LD50 data to rank biotoxicity, it isn’t an exact science. There is room for improvement.

For starters, no LD50 data exists for humans. That means data from other organisms has to be converted to apply to humans. There is a lot of contention amongst scientific communities about how accurate this is.

There has also been an increasing effort to move to new methods of measuring toxicity that are not harmful to animals. Several countries, including the UK, have taken steps to ban the oral LD50, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) abolished the requirement for the oral test in 2001.

Now, new ways of evaluating toxicity are under investigation, like cell-based screening methods.

Correction: Water was mislabeled on a previous version of the infographic. Full sources here

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War

Interactive: Comparing Military Spend Around the World

Which countries have the highest military spend relative to their economy? This visual breaks down the amount spent in each country by GDP.

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A map showing countries' military spend as a percentage of their gross domestic product.

Comparing Military Spend Around the World

One of the easiest ways to identify a nation’s priorities is by tracking its expenditures, and military spend is no different.

Usually spending is measured, and ranked, in absolute amounts. For example, countries around the world collectively spent $2.1 trillion on their militaries in 2021, with the most coming from the U.S. ($800 billion), China ($293 billion), and India ($77 billion).

But these eye-popping figures are best understood in the context of each country’s economy. Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Varun Jain has visualized 158 countries’ military expenditures, both as a percentage of their total GDP as well as in average per-capita spend.

Countries’ Military Spend as a Percentage of their Economy

To begin, Jain identified three categories of military expenditure as a percent of GDP, using the five-year (2018‒2022) average for more consistent data:

Military Spend% of GDPCountries
HighAbove 5%7
Medium2‒5%44
LowBelow 2%107

Under this categorization, the stand outs are the countries spending an outsized amount of their economic output on military, rather than the highest total spenders in absolute terms.

At the top of the table is Ukraine, which has earmarked a staggering average of 9.46% of its total economic output on defense over the past five years. That’s well ahead of second-place Saudi Arabia, which is slightly above 8%.

In Ukraine’s case, its high ranking shows how quickly priorities can change. From 2018 to 2021, the country spent 3.2-3.8% of its GDP on its military, but the outbreak of war with Russia saw its expenditures jump to one-third of economic output.

Other countries from the Middle East and North Africa follow in this tier, with Oman third at 8.11% and Qatar fourth with 5.88%. Rounding out the top seven high spenders are Algeria, Kuwait, and Israel.

RankCountryMilitary Spend% of GDP
1🇺🇦 UkraineHigh9.46%
2🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaHigh8.19%
3🇴🇲 OmanHigh8.11%
4🇶🇦 QatarHigh5.88%
5🇩🇿 AlgeriaHigh5.70%
6🇰🇼 KuwaitHigh5.66%
7🇮🇱 IsraelHigh5.09%
8🇯🇴 JordanMedium4.81%
9🇦🇲 ArmeniaMedium4.53%
10🇦🇿 AzerbaijanMedium4.53%
11🇱🇧 LebanonMedium4.01%
12🇷🇺 RussiaMedium3.98%
13🇧🇭 BahrainMedium3.79%
14🇵🇰 PakistanMedium3.75%
15🇲🇦 MoroccoMedium3.72%
16🇺🇿 UzbekistanMedium3.56%
17🇺🇸 U.S.Medium3.48%
18🇨🇴 ColombiaMedium3.24%
19🇬🇷 GreeceMedium3.15%
20🇳🇦 NamibiaMedium3.09%
21🇧🇳 BruneiMedium3.09%
22🇸🇸 South SudanMedium3.05%
23🇹🇬 TogoMedium3.03%
24🇲🇱 MaliMedium2.90%
25🇨🇺 CubaMedium2.88%
26🇸🇬 SingaporeMedium2.86%
27🇧🇼 BotswanaMedium2.86%
28🇲🇲 MyanmarMedium2.76%
29🇧🇫 Burkina FasoMedium2.70%
30🇮🇶 IraqMedium2.69%
31🇰🇷 South KoreaMedium2.69%
32🇨🇬 Republic of CongoMedium2.68%
33🇹🇩 ChadMedium2.66%
34🇮🇳 IndiaMedium2.58%
35🇹🇳 TunisiaMedium2.58%
36🇪🇨 EcuadorMedium2.34%
37🇮🇷 IranMedium2.32%
38🇻🇳 Viet NamMedium2.28%
39🇰🇭 CambodiaMedium2.26%
40🇲🇷 MauritaniaMedium2.24%
41🇳🇪 NigerMedium2.21%
42🇧🇮 BurundiMedium2.21%
43🇹🇷 TurkeyMedium2.19%
44🇵🇱 PolandMedium2.17%
45🇱🇻 LatviaMedium2.14%
46🇱🇹 LithuaniaMedium2.13%
47🇪🇪 EstoniaMedium2.13%
48🇬🇧 United KingdomMedium2.12%
49🇺🇾 UruguayMedium2.11%
50🇷🇸 SerbiaMedium2.06%
51🇺🇬 UgandaMedium2.02%
52🇭🇷 CroatiaLow1.97%
53🇦🇺 AustraliaLow1.93%
54🇨🇱 ChileLow1.92%
55🇫🇷 FranceLow1.91%
56🇨🇾 CyprusLow1.90%
57🇷🇴 RomaniaLow1.87%
58🇧🇬 BulgariaLow1.85%
59🇸🇿 EswatiniLow1.82%
60🇳🇴 NorwayLow1.81%
61🇨🇫 Central African RepublicLow1.78%
62🇱🇰 Sri LankaLow1.77%
63🇵🇹 PortugalLow1.77%
64🇹🇼 TaiwanLow1.76%
65🇨🇳 ChinaLow1.72%
66🇬🇪 GeorgiaLow1.71%
67🇸🇰 SlovakiaLow1.67%
68🇬🇼 Guinea-BissauLow1.65%
69🇰🇬 KyrgyzstanLow1.62%
70🇬🇳 GuineaLow1.61%
71🇫🇮 FinlandLow1.60%
72🇸🇳 SenegalLow1.58%
73🇭🇳 HondurasLow1.56%
74🇬🇦 GabonLow1.56%
75🇲🇿 MozambiqueLow1.56%
76🇱🇸 LesothoLow1.56%
77🇲🇪 MontenegroLow1.54%
78🇫🇯 FijiLow1.54%
79🇯🇲 JamaicaLow1.49%
80🇦🇴 AngolaLow1.48%
81🇮🇹 ItalyLow1.48%
82🇭🇺 HungaryLow1.48%
83🇧🇴 BoliviaLow1.46%
84🇸🇨 SeychellesLow1.43%
85🇳🇱 NetherlandsLow1.41%
86🇸🇩 SudanLow1.39%
87🇷🇼 RwandaLow1.39%
88🇳🇵 NepalLow1.36%
89🇩🇰 DenmarkLow1.36%
90🇦🇱 AlbaniaLow1.34%
91🇪🇸 SpainLow1.34%
92🇹🇭 ThailandLow1.33%
93🇦🇫 AfghanistanLow1.33%
94🇳🇿 New ZealandLow1.32%
95🇨🇦 CanadaLow1.32%
96🇩🇪 GermanyLow1.31%
97🇲🇰 North MacedoniaLow1.30%
98🇧🇷 BrazilLow1.29%
99🇧🇿 BelizeLow1.28%
100🇸🇻 El SalvadorLow1.28%
101🇧🇩 BangladeshLow1.26%
102🇿🇲 ZambiaLow1.25%
103🇬🇶 Equatorial GuineaLow1.24%
104🇬🇾 GuyanaLow1.22%
105🇨🇮 Cote d'IvoireLow1.22%
106🇪🇬 EgyptLow1.20%
107🇵🇪 PeruLow1.20%
108🇧🇾 BelarusLow1.18%
109🇸🇪 SwedenLow1.17%
110🇰🇪 KenyaLow1.13%
111🇸🇮 SloveniaLow1.10%
112🇹🇱 Timor LesteLow1.08%
113🇹🇿 TanzaniaLow1.05%
114🇨🇲 CameroonLow1.04%
115🇹🇯 TajikistanLow1.03%
116🇯🇵 JapanLow1.03%
117🇧🇪 BelgiumLow1.02%
118🇱🇷 LiberiaLow1.00%
119🇲🇾 MalaysiaLow0.98%
120🇵🇭 PhilippinesLow0.96%
121🇵🇾 ParaguayLow0.95%
122🇽🇰 KosovoLow0.95%
123🇿🇦 South AfricaLow0.94%
124🇲🇼 MalawiLow0.92%
125🇧🇦 Bosnia and HerzegovinaLow0.84%
126🇰🇿 KazakhstanLow0.83%
127🇦🇹 AustriaLow0.78%
128🇬🇲 GambiaLow0.76%
129🇹🇹 Trinidad & TobagoLow0.75%
130🇮🇩 IndonesiaLow0.74%
131🇨🇭 SwitzerlandLow0.73%
132🇨🇿 Czech RepublicLow0.71%
133🇩🇴 Dominican RepublicLow0.70%
134🇲🇳 MongoliaLow0.69%
135🇲🇬 MadagascarLow0.68%
136🇨🇩 Dem. Rep. of CongoLow0.64%
137🇳🇬 NigeriaLow0.64%
138🇪🇹 EthiopiaLow0.64%
139🇸🇱 Sierra LeoneLow0.64%
140🇦🇷 ArgentinaLow0.63%
141🇱🇺 LuxembourgLow0.61%
142🇲🇽 MexicoLow0.61%
143🇳🇮 NicaraguaLow0.60%
144🇨🇻 Cape VerdeLow0.54%
145🇧🇯 BeninLow0.54%
146🇲🇹 MaltaLow0.48%
147🇬🇹 GuatemalaLow0.45%
148🇬🇭 GhanaLow0.43%
149🇵🇬 Papua New GuineaLow0.38%
150🇲🇩 MoldovaLow0.36%
151🇮🇪 IrelandLow0.27%
152🇿🇼 ZimbabweLow0.26%
153🇻🇪 VenezuelaLow0.20%
154🇭🇹 HaitiLow0.17%
155🇲🇺 MauritiusLow0.16%
156🇨🇷 Costa RicaLow0.00%
157🇮🇸 IcelandLow0.00%
158🇵🇦 PanamaLow0.00%

The medium group consists of 44 countries and is led by four nations (Jordan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Lebanon) that all spend more than 4% of their GDP on their militaries. Other familiar countries known to have large military budgets, like Russia, Pakistan, the U.S., India and the UK, are also in this category.

The low spend group has a total of 107 countries, but also contains some surprises. For example, China, France, and Germany—all in the top 10 countries by absolute military spend—actually have similar amounts of military spend as a percent of GDP as Georgia, Cyprus, and North Macedonia respectively.

At the bottom of the table are countries with either low military importance, or strange technicalities. For example, Mauritius is one of the countries with the lowest military budgets because it doesn’t officially have a standing military, instead relying on two paramilitary forces (a special mobile force and a Coast Guard).

Similarly, Iceland allocates 0% of its GDP towards military spending. In place of a standing army, the country maintains a specialized peacekeeping force, a substantial Coast Guard, and relies on security alliances within NATO, of which it is a member and provides financial support to.

Ranking Defense Spending Per Capita

While the measure above equalizes military spend on economic strength, per-capita military spending shows how much countries allocate while accounting for population size.

On a per-capita basis (again using a five-year average), Qatar leads the ranks with a per-capita spend of $4,564, well-ahead of Israel at $2,535, and Saudi Arabia at $1,928.

RankCountryPer Capita Spend ($)
1🇶🇦 Qatar$4,564
2🇮🇱 Israel$2,535
3🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$1,928
4🇸🇬 Singapore$1,837
5🇰🇼 Kuwait$1,815
6🇺🇸 U.S.$1,815
7🇳🇴 Norway$1,438
8🇴🇲 Oman$1,254
9🇦🇺 Australia$1,131
10🇧🇳 Brunei$959
11🇬🇧 UK$913
12🇰🇷 South Korea$894
13🇧🇭 Bahrain$863
14🇩🇰 Denmark$861
15🇫🇷 France$811
16🇫🇮 Finland$801
17🇳🇱 Netherlands$765
18🇱🇺 Luxembourg$694
19🇸🇪 Sweden$662
20🇨🇭 Switzerland$647
21🇨🇦 Canada$645
22🇬🇷 Greece$629
23🇩🇪 Germany$623
24🇳🇿 New Zealand$610
25🇪🇪 Estonia$535
26🇹🇼 Taiwan$495
27🇮🇹 Italy$494
28🇧🇪 Belgium$487
29🇷🇺 Russia$467
30🇱🇹 Lithuania$463
31🇵🇹 Portugal$417
32🇱🇻 Latvia$405
33🇨🇾 Cyprus$399
34🇯🇵 Japan$398
35🇪🇸 Spain$395
36🇦🇹 Austria$393
37🇵🇱 Poland$359
38🇺🇾 Uruguay$354
39🇸🇰 Slovakia$334
40🇱🇧 Lebanon$334
41🇸🇮 Slovenia$302
42🇺🇦 Ukraine$302
43🇭🇷 Croatia$294
44🇨🇱 Chile$292
45🇷🇴 Romania$258
46🇭🇺 Hungary$248
47🇮🇪 Ireland$235
48🇸🇨 Seychelles$230
49🇦🇿 Azerbaijan$226
50🇩🇿 Algeria$219
51🇦🇲 Armenia$217
52🇧🇼 Botswana$215
53🇯🇴 Jordan$207
54🇹🇷 Turkey$199
55🇨🇴 Colombia$197
56🇧🇬 Bulgaria$194
57🇨🇳 China$183
58🇲🇹 Malta$175
59🇨🇿 Czech Republic$175
60🇮🇷 Iran$169
61🇳🇦 Namibia$159
62🇮🇶 Iraq$145
63🇪🇨 Ecuador$138
64🇲🇪 Montenegro$137
65🇷🇸 Serbia$133
66🇹🇹 Trinidad & Tobago$131
67🇬🇦 Gabon$124
68🇲🇦 Morocco$122
69🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea$112
70🇲🇾 Malaysia$109
71🇧🇷 Brazil$107
72🇹🇭 Thailand$97
73🇬🇾 Guyana$92
74🇹🇳 Tunisia$91
75🇫🇯 Fiji$83
76🇲🇰 North Macedonia$83
77🇰🇿 Kazakhstan$82
78🇵🇪 Peru$81
79🇬🇪 Georgia$80
80🇧🇾 Belarus$80
81🇯🇲 Jamaica$77
82🇦🇱 Albania$76
83🇸🇿 Eswatini$72
84🇱🇰 Sri Lanka$69
85🇦🇷 Argentina$66
86🇧🇿 Belize$60
87🇲🇽 Mexico$59
88🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$58
89🇻🇳 Viet Nam$58
90🇿🇦 South Africa$56
91🇸🇻 El Salvador$54
92🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina$54
93🇮🇳 India$53
94🇨🇬 Republic of Congo$53
95🇵🇾 Paraguay$52
96🇧🇴 Bolivia$51
97🇵🇰 Pakistan$49
98🇺🇿 Uzbekistan$44
99🇦🇴 Angola$43
100🇽🇰 Kosovo$42
101🇲🇷 Mauritania$42
102🇭🇳 Honduras$42
103🇪🇬 Egypt$41
104🇰🇭 Cambodia$36
105🇲🇲 Myanmar$35
106🇵🇭 Philippines$33
107🇲🇳 Mongolia$33
108🇮🇩 Indonesia$31
109🇧🇩 Bangladesh$27
110🇹🇱 Timor Leste$27
111🇲🇱 Mali$26
112🇸🇳 Senegal$24
113🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire$23
114🇹🇬 Togo$21
115🇰🇪 Kenya$21
116🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan$20
117🇧🇫 Burkina Faso$20
118🇬🇳 Guinea$19
119🇱🇸 Lesotho$19
120🇨🇻 Cape Verde$19
121🇬🇹 Guatemala$19
122🇹🇩 Chad$18
123🇸🇸 South Sudan$18
124🇸🇩 Sudan$18
125🇺🇬 Uganda$18
126🇿🇼 Zimbabwe$17
127🇿🇲 Zambia$16
128🇲🇺 Mauritius$16
129🇨🇲 Cameroon$16
130🇳🇵 Nepal$15
131🇳🇬 Nigeria$14
132🇳🇮 Nicaragua$12
133🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau$12
134🇹🇿 Tanzania$12
135🇨🇺 Cuba$11
136🇷🇼 Rwanda$11
137🇲🇩 Moldova$11
138🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea$10
139🇳🇪 Niger$10
140🇹🇯 Tajikistan$9
141🇨🇫 Central African Republic$8
142🇲🇿 Mozambique$8
143🇬🇭 Ghana$8
144🇧🇯 Benin$7
145🇧🇮 Burundi$7
146🇦🇫 Afghanistan$6
147🇬🇲 Gambia$6
148🇪🇹 Ethiopia$5
149🇻🇪 Venezuela$5
150🇲🇼 Malawi$4
151🇸🇱 Sierra Leone$3
152🇲🇬 Madagascar$3
153🇨🇩 Dem. Rep. of Congo$3
154🇱🇷 Liberia$3
155🇭🇹 Haiti$2
156🇨🇷 Costa Rica$0
157🇮🇸 Iceland$0
158🇵🇦 Panama$0

Measured this way, we get a perspective of how small defense budgets can be per person, even if the total expenditure is large.

For example, India has the fourth-highest total defense expenditure in 2022, but because of its massive population only sets aside $53 per resident for its military, putting it solidly at the bottom third of the per-capita rankings.

Patterns Revealed By Measuring Military Spend

Changing how we look at a country’s military budget can reveal a lot more than just looking at absolute numbers.

For example, the Middle East is the region with the highest spenders on defense as a percentage of their GDP, giving us insight into regional security concerns.

Countries from the medium group of military spending—including parts of Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia—highlight past or recent conflict zones between neighbors, countries with internal strife, or countries wary of a regional aggressor. Ukraine’s average per capita military spend, for example, was just $122.4 from 2018 to 2021. The next year, it jumped nearly 10 times to $1,018.66 per person after Russia’s invasion.

In fact, European military spending saw its sharpest one-year jump in 30 years as a direct result of the war.

Alongside European anxieties, ongoing tension between China and Taiwan has also contributed to increased military spending in Asia and Oceania. Will these budgets continue their dramatic ascent or will they rise evenly alongside their relative economies in 2023?

Data note: For these comparisons, the creator is calculating five-year averages (using data from 2018-2022) for military spending as a percentage of GDP and per-capita military spending for each country. The military expenditure data is pulled from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Data for some countries is missing or may vary significantly from official figures. Countries with up to
two years of missing data had averages calculated on the years available, while countries with three or more years of missing data have been removed from this dataset, including: Djibouti, Eritrea, North Korea, Laos, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Turkmenistan, UAE, and Yemen.

Please see SIPRI’s methodologies page for more details on how they collect their data and create estimates.

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