If you check this documentary, you'll see that Borneo natives used blow pipes vs Japanese during 1944-1945. I find this sort of engagement fascinating, since the poison used in the blowpipe dart must have been fast-acting to prevent retaliation by a firearm-wielding soldier. What accounts/sources exist about these skirmishes? What kind of poison was used? What were the outcomes of the skirmishes?


Google's first response provides an answer, that describes the likely toxin. The paper mentions that, "Animals hit by a poison dart, irrespective of the part of the body that is pierced, start to twitch after a few seconds." and, "Reports on dosage specify that 0.3 mg would be lethal for a rabbit. One mg. causes death in dogs (Boer et al. 1999:127), while 0.1mg. is the lethal dosage (L50) per kg. weight for cats (Zahorka 1986:58). The toxicity of [beta]-Antiarin is much higher than that of curare."

I am not a pharmacologist, nor do I play one on the internet. I haven't seen the documentary. With those caveats out of the way.

  1. "Start to twitch after a few seconds" implies that there are (at least) two different models of the blowpipe as a weapon. "a few seconds" is ample time to fire a weapon, if you are aware that you have been attacked. I think it is more likely that the blowpipe wielders were acting from stealth and that the victims were unaware that they had been attacked.

  2. It may be that the victim thought they were attacked by an insect, and were unaware of an attacker; they therefore did not retaliate until the toxic effects had started.

  3. It may be that the victim knew that he had been attacked, but couldn't find the (stealthed) attacker. (I'm also not infantry, but my understanding is that spraying 360 degrees with an automatic weapon is, at a minimum, foolish and wasteful.)

  4. I would like someone to explain why the toxicity for rabbits and dogs is measured as an absolute, while the toxicity for cats is in mg/kg. Which is a better model for humans? Is it possible to deliver 3mg to a human via a blowpipe?

  • Yes, point 4. is the big question. 3 mg may not be such a small amount from my experience, 3 mg is, for example, the standard dose for a melatonin capsule and it is a pretty big capsule and quite a lot of powder in it. I've seen the paper you reference, but the dose is the big doubt I have. A human is, after all, a pretty big/large "game" and a rabbit/cat lethal dose may not apply to us primates anyway. – user1095108 Jul 26 '16 at 13:37
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    If you're putting snipers in trees blowpipe war will be at a disadvantage in a big way. The Japanese regularly put snipers in trees when engaging an enemy. Americans regularly expending copious amounts of ammo to deal with said threat...usually to good effect...during the Island Hopping Campaign in WW2. – Doctor Zhivago Jul 26 '16 at 14:08
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    @user1095108 in most commercial drugs, the capsule is way too big related to the mass because almost all of this is excipient (i.e., not the active principle but inert chemicals(excipient). If it were not for this, a) pills would be too small to manage and b) the pharma industry would need way tighter tolerancies (if the active principle is only 0.1% of the weight, their scales can be three orders of magnitudes less precise than for dealing with the pure substance). Excipients are also useful for other reasons. – SJuan76 Jul 26 '16 at 18:04
  • sJuan76 - excellent point - do you believe that it is reasonable to deliver 3mg via a needle? And can you illuminate why cats are different than dogs & rabbits? – Mark C. Wallace Jul 26 '16 at 18:11
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    This site, snakedatabase.org/pages/LD50.php , gives LD50 for several species of snake, according to 4 different methods of administration: intravenous, subcutaneous, intraperitonial, and intramuscular. You will notice that for most venoms, IV adminstration is by far more lethal, though also much less common. Blowpipe darts probably deliver their poison by IM injection. That considered, 0.1 mg/kg is quite potent, rivaling with the LD50 of most dangerous snakes when administered by SC or even IV. To compare, the venom of monocled cobra's poison LD50 is 0.115 mg/kg in IV administration. – Luís Henrique Jul 26 '16 at 20:22

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