Academic journal article Science Scope

Borrowed Poison

Academic journal article Science Scope

Borrowed Poison

Article excerpt

Most snakes are born with poisonous) bites they use for defense. But what can nonpoisonous snakes do to ward off predators? What if they could borrow a dose of poison by eating toxic toads, then recycling the toxins?

That's exactly what happens in the relationship between an Asian snake and a species of toad, according to a team of researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS).

Herpetologists Deborah Hutchinson and Alan Savitzky of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and colleagues published results of research on the snake's dependence on certain toads in this week's online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Hutchinson studied the Asian snake Rhabdophis tigrinus and its relationship to a species of toxic toad it eats. In the PNAS paper, she and coauthors describe dietary sequestration of toxins by the snakes. The process allows the snakes to store toxins from the toads in their neck glands. When under attack, the snakes re-release the poisons from these neck glands.

Many invertebrates sequester dietary toxins for use in defense, including milkweed insects and sea slugs. But vertebrate examples of toxin sequestration, especially from vertebrate prey, are rare. …

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