This fish gets predators high so it can escape

Posted April 04, 2017

When the scientists tested venom samples from the fang blennies, they noticed it produced a very different effect from venom delivered by fish through spines, which usually sparks excruciating pain out of proportion to the initial puncture.

"The ancestral fish was an animal that used the fangs to scoop out flesh from larger fish, much like how the fang blenny species Plagiotremus rhinorhynchos (the bluestriped fangblenny) mimics a cleaner wrasse in order to feed on larger fish thinking they're going to get a cleaning", says Fry.

There are five genera of fang blennies, one of which (Meiacanthus) is venomous.

Researcher Bryan Fry, who led the study published in the journal Current Biology, also noted the importance of climate change in the survival of these blennies. It doesn't even trigger pain receptors in the body, like most forms of venom do. Evolution favored the tiny fish with large teeth first and later found a way to enhance them with venom.

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Snakes, scorpions and spiders are the usual suspects for this kind of research, but with so many venomous fish out there, we could find some useful chemicals in them, too. What makes them especially unsafe is the fact that their venom does not inject pain for their predators, but rather, it causes a sudden drop in blood pressure, which stupefies.

Fast forward more than 40 years later, and researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the University of Queensland (UQ) have discovered a possible reason to explain how this tiny fish gets the better of its attackers: their venom, which comprises not one but a combination of three types of toxins, seen for the first time in a fish: a neuropeptide that can cause a drop in blood pressure. "In this case, the side-effect is what's being used by the blenny", he says.

The fearless coral reef fish known as the fang blenny might only grow to several inches long, but it packs a toothy, venomous bite. Instead of creating pain, the blenny's poison simply serves as a way to boring the predator's senses while the small fish to swims away. The study also found evidence that suggests that the teeth from fang blennies evolved before the venom. Study co-author Bryan Fry surmises that this combination "can produce sensations of extremely unpleasant nausea and dizziness".

They live in the Pacific region, including on the Great Barrier Reef, and are popular as ornamental tropical aquarium fish.

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Not all researchers on the team are convinced the the blenny's venom works like hard drugs.

Scientists and researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia have found the poison is "chemically unique".

Dr. Casewell said that only about 30 out of 100 species of fang blennies are venomous.

Dr Casewell said: "These unassuming little fish have a really quite advanced venom system, and that venom system has a major impact on fishes and other animals in its community".

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Findings about blennies and painkillers bolster the need to protect the Great Barrier Reef and other fragile ecosystems.