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Animals use venoms for multiple purposes, most prominently for prey acquisition and self-defense. In snakes, venom composition often evolves as a result of selection for optimization for local diet. However, whether selection for a defensive function has also played a role in driving the evolution of venom composition has remained largely unstudied. Here, we use an online survey of snakebite victims to test a key prediction of a defensive function, that envenoming should result in the rapid onset of severe pain. From the analysis of 584 snakebite reports, involving 192 species of venomous snake, we find that the vast majority of bites do not result in severe early pain. Phylogenetic comparative analysis shows that where early pain after a bite evolves, it is often lost rapidly. Our results, therefore, do not support the hypothesis that natural selection for antipredator defense played an important role in the origin of venom or front-fanged delivery systems in general, although there may be intriguing exceptions to this rule.


  • Defence, Evolution, Pain, Selective pressure, snake, snakebite, venom
Original languageEnglish
Article number201
Number of pages19
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2020

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