Stellenbosch University
Welcome to Stellenbosch University
Snake fang study brings new insights
Author: CAF Admin
Published: 07/08/2017

In a study recently published in The Royal Society Biology Letters, scientists show that the structural changes associated with the formation of the venom-conducting canal in snake fangs do not appear to be associated with an increase in stress under load. The authors conducted computer simulations directly on 3D-scans obtained using high-resolution micro-computed tomography (micro-CT). They found no differences in stress distribution between three types of snake fangs, despite differences in size and structure.

The researchers from the Department of Botany and Zoology and the CT Scanner Facility (CAF) at Stellenbosch University tested the hypothesis that in venomous snakes, larger fangs and consequently an evolutionary shift in position from the back to the front of the jaw occurred to compensate for the costs of having highly-modified tubular fangs. Contrary to the expectations, their findings suggest that each type of fang might be “biomechanically optimised".

“Mankind is often fascinated by spectacular natural structures ‒ why and how they evolved is of particular interest to scientists" author Dr Anton du Plessis explained. Snake fang evolution is one such interesting topic, with three different types that evolved on multiple occasions in venomous snakes. “The question is: is one of these optimised mechanically while the others are not?" This study sheds some new light on the pressures involved in the snake fang evolution. “It also teaches us to stay away from all kinds of venomous snakes, not only the ones with big fangs!" Du Plessis added.

Venomous snakes are often seen as frightening animals and have been studied for centuries. Yet, a lot of important questions concerning the evolution of snake fangs still remain unanswered. Understanding the evolution of the venom-delivery system and components could provide insights into the biological role of venom and play a vital role in facing challenges related to snake bite cases.