Early mammal could bite like a snake

June 22, 2005

A small mammal that lived around 60 million years ago had poisonous fangs that enabled it to bite like a snake, the first time that an extinct mammal species has been found with this capacity, a new study says.

The fossilised remains of two curved canines, found in the Canadian province of Alberta, shows a groove from which the creature, Bisonalveus browni, probably shot venom into its prey.

Only a small number of modern mammals, including the duck-billed platypus and a rat-like creature called the Caribbean Solenodon, use venom delivery.

That rarity had led experts to conclude that, early in their evolution, mammals discarded the potential of venom as a way of defending themselves or getting food.

The discovery suggests, though, that mammals may have been far more flexible than was previously thought.

Some species must have developed special venom glands and the systems to deliver the poison, although how and why these evolved characteristics died out remain unclear.

The study, headed by University of Alberta palaeontologist Richard Fox, is published in Thursday's issue of Nature, the British weekly science journal.

(c) 2005 AFP

Explore further: New jellyfish named after curious Australian schoolboy

Related Stories

'Dementor' wasp, giant stick insect among new Mekong finds

May 27, 2015

From a soul-sucking 'dementor' wasp named after a creature from the Harry Potter books to a half-metre long stick insect, scientists identified 139 new species in the Greater Mekong Region in 2014, according to a new report.

New insights into Australia's unique platypus

November 2, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- New insights into the biology of the platypus and echidna have been published, providing a collection of unique research data about the world's only monotremes.

Study: Cats, foxes behind Australia's alarming extinctions

February 9, 2015

Australia has always been unique, from its geographical isolation at the bottom of the Earth to its infamous bevy of venomous creatures. Now, scientists have uncovered another unique—and disturbing—facet of Australian ...

Recommended for you

Tracking a mysterious group of asteroid outcasts

August 4, 2015

High above the plane of our solar system, near the asteroid-rich abyss between Mars and Jupiter, scientists have found a unique family of space rocks. These interplanetary oddballs are the Euphrosyne (pronounced you-FROH-seh-nee) ...

Fish that have their own fish finders

August 4, 2015

The more than 200 species in the family Mormyridae communicate with one another in a way completely alien to our species: by means of electric discharges generated by an organ in their tails.

Volcanic bacteria take minimalist approach to survival

August 4, 2015

New research by scientists at the University of Otago and GNS Science is helping to solve the puzzle of how bacteria are able to live in nutrient-starved environments. It is well-established that the majority of bacteria ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.