Published: Tue, April 04, 2017
Health Care | By Gwendolyn Kim

Tiny fish leaves predators dazed and confused with venom cocktail

Tiny fish leaves predators dazed and confused with venom cocktail

A meiacanthus nigrolineatus, which is a poisonous fish from the family of fang blennies. Because the researchers used mice for the pain test, they can't rule out the possibility that the venom does cause pain when injected into other fish.

Protein analysis performed on it found three components go into the mix - a neuropeptide also seen in cone snail venom, a lipase similar to one used by certain species of scorpions, and an opioid peptide. Generally speaking, when it comes to fish with venomous spines or other animals that are venomous, the bites of the animals or getting poked by their spines is described as being extremely painful. "They would be more likely to drown than win gold", Fry said.

The fang blenny's venom is an opioid like morphine or heroin, essentially a painkiller. That aversion is so strong that other, non-venomous fang blenny species - like the short-head sabretooth blenny pictured above - have evolved so that they mimic the look of their toxic cousins.

Losing the Great Barer Reef could lead to the extinction of creatures like blennies and even have anadverse impact on new painkiller development, according to Fry. However, this is the first time they have noted bigger fish closing their mouths around blennies and spitting them right back out. Afterward, they returned the fishes immediately to the reservoir, and the swabs were placed inside a solution to draw out the venom. This causes would-be attackers to become dizzy and sluggish when bitten, preventing them from eating the blennies. "This is pretty unusual, because often what we've found-for example, in snakes-is that some sort of venom secretions evolved first, before the elaborate venom delivery mechanism evolved", says Casewell.

Bryan Fry: While we have known for a long time that fang blennies exist, their venom system has remarkably never been investigated.

The researchers surmise that the drop in blood pressure is probably due to the neuropeptide and opioid components, which can leave predators feeling disoriented and prevent them from pursuing the fish. The grouper, on the other hand, was so scarred by the experience that it developed an aversion to this particular genus of fish.

Prof Fry said the venom was "chemically unique".

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

All fang blennies have hollow fangs on their lower jaw, but only Meiacanthus species have venom glands and grooves for the venom to travel to the fangs.

Their behaviour is also intriguing, he said, for the way they appear unafraid of predators and fight for territory with similar-sized fish.

Researchers cited the potentials of a fang blenny-inspired medication in the sports industry.

Prof Fry concluded: "This study is an excellent example of why we need to protect nature".

'If we lose the Great Barrier Reef, we will lose animals like the fang blenny and its unique venom that could be the source of the next blockbuster pain-killing drug'.

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