Harmful Cyanobacteria

The table below is a summary of the known cyanotoxins, their primary toxicological target in mammals, and known cyanobacteria genera that produce each toxin (adapted from Chorus & Bartram 1999). 

Toxins in bold type are known to occur in New Zealand. Genera in bold type are known to produce the associated toxin in New Zealand.

* = The results of cyanotoxin testing on environmental samples indicate that species from this genus produce the associated cyanotoxin in New Zealand.

Toxin Group and Toxin

Primary Target in Mammals

Cyanobacteria Genera

Cyclic Peptides



Microcystis, Anabaena*, Planktothrix*, Nostoc, Haphalosiphon, Anabaenopsis, Aphanocapsa, Aphanizomenon, Arthrospira, Cylindrospermopsis, Oscillatoria*, Phormidium*, Pseudanabaena, Snowella, Synechocystis, Woronichinia.






Nerve synapse

Anabaena*, Planktothrix, Aphanizomenon, Cylindrospermum, Lyngbya, Microcystis, Oscillatoria*, Planktothrix, Phormidium*, Raphidiopsis.


Nerve synapse

Planktothrix, Raphidiopsis, Oscillatoria*, Phormidium*,


Nerve synapse

Anabaena, Oscillatoria.



Cylindrospermopsis*, Aphanizomenon, Umezakia, Anabaena, Raphidiopsis.


Nerve axons

Anabaena*, Aphanizomenon, Lyngbya, Cylindrospermopsis, Planktothrix*.

Lipopolysaccharides (LPS)


Potential irritant; any exposed tissue


left to right: Microcystis sp., Cylindrospermopsis sp., and Anabaena sp.


Chorus, I. and Bartram, J. (1999). Toxic cyanobacteria in water: a guide to their public health consequences, monitoring and management. E & F Spon, London.

Wood, S.A. (2005). Bloom forming and toxic cyanobacteria in New Zealand: species diversity, distribution, cyanotoxin production and accumulation of microcystins in selected freshwater organisms. Doctoral thesis/dissertation, Victoria University and Massey University. 306 pp.

Wood, S.A., Stirling, D. J., Briggs, L.R., Sprosen, J., Holland, P.T., Ruck, J.G. and Wear, R.G. (2006a). Survey of cyanotoxins in New Zealand waterbodies between 2001 and 2004. New Zealand Journal of Marine & Freshwater Research. In Press

Wood, S.A., Rasmussen, J.P., Holland, P.T., Campbell, R. and Crowe, A.M. (2006b). First report of the cyanotoxin anatoxin-a from Aphanizomenon issatschenkoi (Cyanobacteria). Journal of Phycology. In Press.

Wood, S.A., Selwood, A., Smith, K. and Smits, B. (2006c). Sudden dog deaths caused by toxic cyanobacteria. Vetscript NZ. Feb. 2006, 6-8.

Wood, S.A., Briggs, L.R., Sprosen, J., Ruck, J.G., Wear, R.G., Holland, P.T. and Bloxham, M. (2006d). Changes in levels of microcystins in Rainbow Trout, freshwater mussels and cyanobacteria in Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoehu. Environmental Toxicology 21: 205-222.

Wood, S.A. and Stirling, D.J. (2003). First identification of the cylindrospermopsin producing cyanobacteria Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Marine & Freshwater Research 37: 821-828.