Venoms: Striking Beauties


Striking Diversity

For many of us, the word venom conjures visions of rattlesnakes or tarantulas. But many kinds of animals use venom, not just snakes and spiders. From the tenacious bite of the Gila Monster to the shy and nocturnal Slow Loris, you’ll be amazed by the diversity of animals that rely on venom.

black widow anemone nudibranch gila monster slow loris


 

Black Widow
Laterodectus hesperus

Identified by the red hourglass on her belly, the female black widow got her name because females sometimes consume the male after mating. The black widow injects venom with sideways-striking fangs, easily killing its insect prey.

The venom causes severe muscle cramping and breathing problems. Drop for drop, it is ten times more toxic than rattlesnake venom. Fortunately, the black widow’s tiny fangs inject only a small amount.

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black widow
 
Photo by Dong Lin

 

 

Sea Anemone
Heteractis magnifica

The sea anemone’s tentacles are covered with thousands of nematocysts — tiny, venomous harpoons. Venom helps the anemone catch prey and keep predators away.

Protected by a thick coat of mucus, the clownfish lives unharmed among the anemone’s venomous tentacles. The anemone provides a safe home for the clownfish. This aggressive and territorial fish protects the anemone, "shooing away" potential predators like a watchdog.

Some species of anemone can give humans a painful sting.

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anemone
 
Photo by Zafer Kizilkaya

 

 

Nudibranch
Hermissenda crassicornis

Nudibranchs, or sea slugs, "steal" venom from other animals and use it for self-defense. When nudibranchs eat a venomous hydroid, any unfired nematocysts (the hydroid’s toxic harpoons) pass through the nudibranch’s body and accumulate in the cerata, the "fringe" along its back. This "second-hand" venom protects the nudibranch from predators.

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nudibranch
 
Photo by Terry Gosliner

 

 

Gila Monster
Heloderma suspectum

If provoked, the shy and reclusive Gila Monster strikes back with a tenacious, venomous bite. The lizard’s venom flows from glands in its lower jaws, along grooves in its teeth, and into the bite wound. Most of its prey, such as rabbits and rodents, are quickly killed by its powerful jaws. This large, heavy-bodied species is one of only two types of venomous lizards and is found in the southwestern United States.

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gila monster
 
Photo by Mark Seward

 

 

Slow Loris
Nycticebus coucang

This shy primate mixes its own toxic cocktail from two ingredients: its saliva and the secretions from a gland in its inner elbow. The venom causes extreme pain if injected by a bite, but the mere smell of the compound repels most predators. The female also uses this combination as a "toxic babysitter," covering her young with the venom while she leaves to search for food.

Little is known about slow loris venom or its effects.

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slow loris
 
Photo by Ed Ross

 

 

 

 

 

 


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