Ed Yeates ReportingOne of the most deadly animals in the world can now be eaten by a snake that was once paralyzed instantly if it even tried to touch the prey. It's an amazing story of evolution that's fascinating not only biologists, but a whole arena of scientists.
The confident little newt never runs away because if you or anything tries to bite it, you die instantly. It's that simple. Within the species, one could kill up to 50,000 mice and up to ten humans.
After handling it, I had to wash the poison secreted from its skin from my hands before handling food. But now what had been the least of this newt's worries has become it's greatest in a region along the Pacific Coast.
Garter snakes, which could never touch it before, can eat it whole now because they've mutated in unique way. And Utah State University researchers are the first to document the changes.
Sodium channels, as they're called, within the snake's muscles have altered so that proteins from the poison can no longer attach or bind.
Shana Geffeney, USU Researcher: "Whoever could do it, whichever snake could do it, would be able to reproduce and have more offspring and pass on their genes - and we see the product of that now.”
Evolution in its finest hour! That's what scientists are saying.
Peter Ruben, USU Researcher: "It's an unusual opportunity to put a story together and get all the parts."
Not only is the specific mutation unique, but the way the snake gets rid of the poison.
Edmund Brodie, USU Researcher: "Those populations concentrate the toxin in their liver at a level that bird predators are unable to eat them."
In fact, because the mutated snake now has red coloration, birds avoid them, thus the birds are protected. If Darwin could only see this now.
Many scientists are interested in the USU study because the specific way the snake has mutated may help them develop drugs that might help people with epilepsy, heart arrhythmias or muscular dystrophy.