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First venomous crustacean discovered living in underwater caves

Posted October 24, 2013

A research team with members from the U.K., Germany, and Mexico has confirmed the first known existence of a venomous crustacean. In their paper published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, the researchers describe their study of Speleonectes tulumensis, of the group remipedes as well as their finding that it is indeed the first known crustacean to use venom to capture and kill prey.

First venomous crustacean discovered living in underwater caves
Speleonectes tanumekes Koenemann, Iliffe, van der Ham, 2003. Credit: PLoS ONE 6 (5): e19627, figure 1. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019627

Remipedes are a type of crustacean, which is a subgroup of arthropods. Venom is of course found in a wide variety of arthropods such as spiders and scorpions, but never before has a crustacean (of which there are 70,000 known kinds) been known to create and use venom.

Scientists have suspected S. tulumensis may be unique since they were first discovered living in underwater caves along coastlines in Mexico and Central America as far back as the 1980’s. They have hollow fangs on the sides of their head behind their jaws. No one’s been able to study them up close until now, however because of the difficulty in getting to where they live. In this latest effort, the team was able to collect some samples and then took them back to their lab. There they discovered that the one-of-a-kind creature actually has a complex venom delivery system, and that it produces more than one type of toxin.

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