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Why some snakes are deadlier than others decoded

Press Trust of India  |  London 

Scientists have uncovered why the of some snakes makes them so much deadlier than others.

Snakes are infamous for possessing potent venoms, a fact that makes them deadly predators and also strikes fear into humans and other animals alike, said researchers, including those from the Dublin in Ireland.

However, some species, such as cobras, boomslangs and rattlesnakes have far more than they apparently need.

In a single reserve of venom, they have the potential to kill thousands of their prey animals and several adult humans.

Why venoms vary so much in their ability to kill or incapacitate potential prey animals has long puzzled scientists.

The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, tackled this puzzle by comparing records of potency and quantity for over 100 venomous species, ranging from rattlesnakes, cobras and the tree dwelling boomslangs of to sea snakes and burrowing asps.

The team found strong evidence that venoms have evolved to be more potent against animals that are closely related to the species that the commonly eats.

"These results make sense from an evolutionary viewpoint as we expect that evolution will have shaped venoms to be more efficient at killing the prey animals they are most often the target of the venom," said from the in the UK.

"You won't find many mice in the sea so we wouldn't expect a sea to evolve venom that is more effective at killing mice than fish," said Healy, who is now of Zoology at the

The research also showed that the amount of venom a snake has depends on both its size and the it lives in.

"Like all substances venom is dosage-dependent," said Andrew Jackson, at Dublin.

"We found that big terrestrial species have the most venom, while smaller tree-dwelling or aquatic species had the least.

"This difference may be due to how often a snake encounters its prey in these different environments, with terrestrial species requiring a larger reserve of venom to take advantage of the rarer opportunities to feed," Jackson said.

The results of the study also have potential to aid in our understanding when it comes to human snakebites.

"Snakebites are a major health concern worldwide, with 2.7 million cases each year," said from the

"Understanding how venom evolves may help us better identify the risks to humans from different snake groups, and also potentially from other venomous animals such as spiders, scorpions, centipedes and jellyfish," Carbone said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, January 08 2019. 18:15 IST