Thursday, 22 September 2016

Blue coral snake, calliophis bivirgata: A mysterious beauty armed with exotic toxins

Date: September 5, 2016
Source: University of Malaya

Toxicologists in Malaysia published the first report on the venom proteome correlating toxic functionalities of the Malayan blue coral snake, an exotic species from the country. The toxins are unique among snakes and have deep implication on antivenom production and drug discovery.

People first heard about "coral snakes" might naturally think that the snakes live in the sea, hiding, swimming and lurking in and around some beautiful coral reefs. But the truth isn't so, as coral snakes are totally terrestrial (living on land), preferring forested habitat that offers land for burrowing and hiding. Why "coral"? Because of the stunning, breathtaking colors in most of the species.

The Malayan Blue coral snake, Calliophis bivirgata, is perhaps the largest species of its kind. Adult snakes typically grow beyond a meter in body length. The body color is striking to the eyes: bright-red color on the head continuous throughout the underside of the body to the tail, while the back of the body is dark blue to black in color, flanked by a pair of bluish white stripes running along each side. The dramatic body color is believed to serve aposematic purpose (as a warning message of "Stay away from me, I am deadly!" to ward off predators). Coral snakes are elusive and shy; when confronted, they usually slither away or seek hiding spot to avoid the source of aggression.

Beautiful, attractive, but dangerous -- this is the nature of blue coral snake. All coral snakes belong to the Elapidae Family of the Serpentes Order. For those uncertain about snake taxonomy, "famous" members in the Elapidae Family include cobras, kraits and sea snakes. A common characteristic of these snakes is that they all pack and carry a battery of lethal toxins called "venom" in specialized oral glands, to be injected through the venom fangs when in need. So what is exactly "venom"? For snakes, it is a critical phenotype that has ecological significance, where it functions to take down prey and to defend the snake from predator. Mishaps however can occur from unpleasant encounters between humans and the snake, resulting in snakebite envenomation.

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