This fish basically gives its enemies heroin

Posted April 04, 2017

The venom of this fish lowers the blood pressures in would-be predators, researchers say.

A new study from University of Queensland revealed that the venom of this cute little fish living in the Pacific region could become the next "blockbuster pain-killing drug".

The team noted that the venom from fang blennies is very different than the toxins produced by other fish. Whether the venom causes pain to the predator fish is unclear, but researchers found that it doesn't cause pain when injected into lab mice.

When the researchers did a proteomic analysis of extracted fang blenny venom, they found three venom components-a neuropeptide that occurs in cone snail venom, a lipase similar to one from 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 analyzed fang blenny venom components, noting a combination that would likely tiresome a predator's coordination and affect its ability to swim, enabling the blenny to escape.

The fanged fish's heroin-like venom could lead to pain treatments. Scientists reported observing blennies engulfed by the mouths of larger fish, which then experienced a "quivering of the head" and spat the blenny out unharmed, the study authors wrote. The fish were then returned to the tanks and the swabs were suspended in a solution to draw out the venom. That's what's useful - to make them slower and dizzier so the blenny fish can escape a predator or kill its prey.

"What's really unusual are these opioid-like neuropeptides called enkephalins, which don't induce pain", he says.

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Another surprise from the study was the evidence suggesting that fang blenny fangs evolved before the venom. Rather, their blood pressure plummeted by 40 percent. Sometimes, when the blenny tries nibbling on a big fish, the big fish bites back, swallowing the blenny whole.

Fish venom has been understudied for most of the time.

Fry: The venom is absolutely unique; we have never seen anything like it.

Now an global team of biologists has finally discovered what compounds are found in the venom that blennies from the Meiacanthus genus readily injected in Losey's skin back in the '70s.

"Their secret weapons are two large grooved teeth on the lower jaw that are linked to venom glands". Image credit: Richard Smith."Predatory fish will not eat those fishes because they think they are venomous and going to cause them harm, but this protection provided also allows some of these mimics to get very close to unsuspecting fish to feed on them, by picking on their scales as a micropredator", explained Nicholas Casewell of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and co-author of the study.

"This discovery is an excellent example as to why we must urgently protect all of nature", study co-author Bryan Fry, of the University of Queensland, told CBC News.

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