The Evolution of Fangs, Venom, and Mimicry Systems in Blenny Fishes

Nicholas R Casewell, Jeroen C. Visser, Kate Baumann, James Dobson, Han Han, Sanjaya Kuruppu, Michael Morgan, Anthony Romilio, Vera Weisbecker, Syed A Ali, Jordan Debono, Ivan Koludarov, Ivo Que, Gregory C. Bird, Gavan M. Cooke, Amanda S Nouwens, Wayne C. Hodgson, Simon C. Wagstaff, Karen L. Cheney, Irina VetterLouise van der Weerd, Michael K Richardson, Bryan G Fry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Venom systems have evolved on multiple occasions across the animal kingdom, and they can act as key adaptations to protect animals from predators []. Consequently, venomous animals serve as models for a rich source of mimicry types, as non-venomous species benefit from reductions in predation risk by mimicking the coloration, body shape, and/or movement of toxic counterparts []. The frequent evolution of such deceitful imitations provides notable examples of phenotypic convergence and are often invoked as classic exemplars of evolution by natural selection. Here, we investigate the evolution of fangs, venom, and mimetic relationships in reef fishes from the tribe Nemophini (fangblennies). Comparative morphological analyses reveal that enlarged canine teeth (fangs) originated at the base of the Nemophini radiation and have enabled a micropredatory feeding strategy in non-venomous Plagiotremus spp. Subsequently, the evolution of deep anterior grooves and their coupling to venom secretory tissue provide Meiacanthus spp. with toxic venom that they effectively employ for defense. We find that fangblenny venom contains a number of toxic components that have been independently recruited into other animal venoms, some of which cause toxicity via interactions with opioid receptors, and result in a multifunctional biochemical phenotype that exerts potent hypotensive effects. The evolution of fangblenny venom has seemingly led to phenotypic convergence via the formation of a diverse array of mimetic relationships that provide protective (Batesian mimicry) and predatory (aggressive mimicry) benefits to other fishes []. Our results further our understanding of how novel morphological and biochemical adaptations stimulate ecological interactions in the natural world. Venomous animals serve as models for a variety of mimicry types. Casewell et al. find that fangblennies evolved venom after the origin of their venom-delivering fangs. The venom is potently hypotensive and is effective at protecting from predators. Its origin has seemingly stimulated an array of Batesian mimetic relationships with other fishes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1184-1191
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2017


  • Adaptation
  • Convergence
  • Defense
  • Evolution
  • Hypotension
  • Meiacanthus
  • Mimicry
  • Opioid
  • Toxin
  • Venom

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