Chemical Adaptations

Chemical Adaptations

Venom

 
How does an animal with no arms or legs attack a live meal? That may sound like a daunting challenge, but over millions of years, many species of snakes have refined this skill. They've modified proteins and enzymes in their saliva into powerful venoms, and developed a physical system that can instantaneously inject that venom.

The bushmaster is an example of a snake with large venom glands linked by ducts to hollow fangs. When a bushmaster attacks an agouti (large rodent), for example, it injects its venom through its fangs, then recoils to allow the venom to act on its victim, the agouti. This behavior enables the snake to avoid being severely injured by the rodent's sharp incisors who is trying not to become a snake snack.

Bushmaster venom not only quickly kills its victim, it also begins the digestive process in the snake’s meal by breaking down blood cells and muscle tissue in the victim.

 

Four-legged Stink Bomb 

 
One contender for the smelliest animal on earth award is the African striped polecat, which lives on African grasslands called savannas. Also called a zorilla, this member of the weasel family can raise a stink that can be smelled a mile away!

You know those fancy awards like the Emmy Awards for the television industry? Well, if this animal won an award, it might be called be the Stinky. African polecats smell so bad that it kind of makes you wonder how two polecats can be around each other.

Now all members of the weasel family produce scents in their anal glands located by their tail. But like skunks, the polecat has specialized, "industrial strength" anal glands. Using a special set of muscles next to these glands, the polecat will spray putrid chemicals at threatening predators, such as an African hunting dog.

The odor of these substances has been described as a mixture of burnt rubber, garlic, rotten eggs, and a high school gym locker. These sulfur-containing chemical weapons are called methyl and butyl thiols, or mercaptans. The chemicals can also irritate a predator's eyes.

If the stinky spray doesn't fend off a predator the polecat will often play dead. Apparently, even the taste of a polecat that has been hit by its own spray is enough to discourage many attackers.


All-Natural Insect Repellant

 
Some millipedes produce a chemical reaction that emits noxious poisons and even hydrogen cyanide gas through pores in their body. The poison is toxic to ants and other insect predators.

Did you know? Some monkeys will rub millipedes over their bodies. Apparently the chemicals produced by some millipedes work as an insect repellant!

Note: Please don't try this at home.

Fun Facts

Koalas have a specialized digestive system that removes the toxins from eucalyptus leaves. The toxins, which serve as important natural insecticides, are poisonous to most other animals.
Fun Fact - koala digestive

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