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Home Science The Surprising Secret of Snakes’ Venomous Bites

The Surprising Secret of Snakes’ Venomous Bites

The world hosts a whole bunch of wildly completely different venomous snake species, from brightly banded coral snakes to camouflaged cottonmouths. But in some way even distantly associated species independently developed specialised fangs with venom-carrying grooves—a longtime puzzle spurring new analysis into how this might have occurred. The reply, says Flinders University herpetologist Alessandro Palci, has been hiding contained in the serpents’ mouths all alongside.

It seems that the enamel of most snake species, Palci and his co-authors report within the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, have a hoop of tiny indentations round their bases. This pitted tooth tissue, known as plicidentine, helps to anchor the enamel to the jaws. “Before our study, plicidentine was thought to be limited to only three types of lizards among living reptiles,” Palci says. In reality, the research finds, it appears to be ubiquitous in snakes.

3D scans show plicidentine indentations present in most snake teeth and the venom-carrying groove unique to venomous species.


Credit: Alessandro Palci, from “Plicidentine and the Repeated Origins of Snake Venom Fangs,” by Alessandro Palci, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Vol. 288; August 11, 2021

And these dental anchors have taken on one other operate in venomous species, the researchers say. They used microscopic tissue sampling and micro CT scans of snake enamel to find out that within the enamel nearest a snake’s venom glands, the plicidentine’s folds have developed into longer grooves that assist snake venom circulate from gland to tooth—after which into prey.

This outcome means that fashionable venomous snake species didn’t have to begin from evolutionary scratch each time they developed a lethal chew. Many snakes produce poisonous saliva, Palci notes, and a tooth with a extra pronounced plicidentine groove lets that incipient venom journey extra effectively. Repeat this alteration in generations of snakes, and venom-delivering fangs will evolve.

“I love seeing modern imaging technology and beautiful micro CT scans applied to a classic question,” says Whitman College herpetologist Kate Jackson, who was not concerned within the new research. Snakes could have developed venom-delivering enamel through different routes as properly, Jackson provides. For occasion, many fish-eating species have grooved enamel that assist to grip slippery prey; these grooves might even have developed into venom channels. Nevertheless, she says, the research reveals a brand new frequent characteristic of snakes and may inform herpetologists’ understanding of how snake fangs developed anew again and again.

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