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Fang Blennies Deter Predators With Opioid-Laced Bites

04 April 2017

The fierce-looking fang blenny, also known as the poison-fang blenny or the sabre-tooth blenny, fends off predators and competitors by injecting them with a heroin-like substance that impairs them rather than kills them.

In new experiments using lab mice, Fry and colleagues found that the rodents that were injected with the fish venom did not show signs of pain.

Fang blennies' evasive techniques are so successful they inspired copycats - species that resemble venomous blennies, but don't have any venom. In predator fish like grouper, though, the venom caused a more visceral response (likely due to the fact that fish are much smaller). One member of the family, the fang-blenny, is quite remarkable. the fish has sharp, fang-like teeth.

And while the team does not expect to develop new pain medications based on this discovery, Dr Casewell said it revealed just how much is still hidden in coral reefs, which are under threat around the world as sea temperatures rise. The blenny uses the venom to stun other fish, Fry said. Afterward, they returned the fishes immediately to the reservoir, and the swabs were placed inside 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. Therefore, it causes the release of pain, instead of producing it. Predators fear them. At first glance, you'd be forgiven for dismissing the tiny fang blenny as an easy meal ticket.

When a bigger fish eats a blenny, the tiny fish bites the predator's gums. But those canines pack a chemical punch, helping the fang blenny escape the maw of would-be bullies. They have two large grooved canine, which they used to deliver the venom to their victims.

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Unlike the toxins emitted by other poisonous fish, the venom isn't lethal. "While the feeling of pain is not produced, opioids can produce sensations of extremely unpleasant nausea and dizziness", says Brian Fry.

Researchers described the uniqueness of the venom residing in the little fangs. "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", says study co-author Nicholas Casewell of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

After they had run tests on the venom, the research team found that there were three components in it.

Fang blennies are a popular aquarium fish, usually bottom-feeders that are found in reefs like Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Fry said the fang blenny was an "excellent example" of why nature and unique habitats must be protected, particularly the Great Barrier Reef. We spoke with Bryan Fry, a biologist at the University of Queensland, about his findings and the chances this newly discovered resource will survive the effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef.

Fang Blennies Deter Predators With Opioid-Laced Bites