Tiger Snake Venom Is So Perfect It's Barely Evolved For 10 Million Years

Ten million years ago tiger snakes evolved the perfect venom, and they've been using pretty much the same thing ever since. Bryan Fry

Most species are locked in an evolutionary arms race with those above or below them in the food chain. As one evolves new weapons or defenses, the other must adapt to survive. However, for 10 million years some Australian snakes have kept almost the same venom. Tiger snakes have found a formula their prey cannot evolve resistance to, so they've had no need to improve it, and this could actually have medic benefits for humans

Snake venom varies by preferred prey. “Those that feed on warm-blooded prey have venoms that hit the blood, while the ones that feed on cold-blooded prey hit the nerves,” Dr Bryan Fry of the University of Queensland told IFLScience. Exceptions exist, with some venoms used to scare off threats, but, Australian snakes feeding largely on mammals or birds mostly produce venom that prevents blood clotting.

Some prey species usually contain individuals that have some capacity to resist venoms. These individuals multiply, eventually reaching a point where the snakes need to come up with some new sort of venom or starve.

However, “If the animals had variation in their blood clotting proteins, they would die because they would not be able to stop bleeding,” Fry said in a statement. “Blood clotting is a very complex cascade. If you change one part in the middle you disrupt everything downstream,” he further explained to IFLScience. 

Mutations are usually disastrous in the wild, producing effects like hemophilia. Squid and insects have fundamentally different circulatory systems to our own, but no vertebrates has managed to suddenly jump to an entirely different system to avoid snake predation.

Having developed the perfect system for targeting blood clotting, many Australian snakes have rested on their laurels. Where other venoms evolve twice as fast as their makers, these are very similar across three genuses and many species, including the Stephen's banded snake and the Sydney broad-headed snake.

I may not speak Parseltongue, but it is still nice to pretend they named Stephen's banded snake after me. Bryan Fry
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