Scientists have recently discovered the first venomous Crustacean. The creature, known as a remipede (Speleonectes tulumensis) was found by Zoologists in underground caves in the Caribbean. Whilst being venomous is nothing new to the animal kingdom, this discovery is a first for Crustaceans. The remipede uses its venom to break down body tissue enabling it to suck up the insides of its prey. This use of venom is strikingly similar to the way in which spiders feed. They too can inject venom into its prey and then use its feeding apparatus to suck up the food.
This discovery could help increase the understanding of the evolution of venom and why it arises in some animals. The remipede may have developed this novel feature because of its surroundings. Living in an underground cave is not easy-going; it is often a nutrient-poor environment with no light source. This means the animals that live in such an environment must obtain as much nutrients as possible from their prey. By being able to breakdown the insides of its prey, the remipede is able to obtain almost all of the nutrients possible from the animal. Also, the venom helps the remipede in actually catching its victim. Living in complete darkness has caused the insect to become blind; meaning it has a very hard job of catching prey. However, the venom the remipede uses contains powerful neurotoxins which are used to help stop the animal from moving, making it easier to eat.
The crustacean group has often been seen as the ‘exception’ to the rule in the insect class because it was the only group (out of 4) that did not have venomous creatures. With this discovery, it offers scientists a whole new research area to find out about the origins and evolution of venom. With increased knowledge in the area of venom, it might be able to help with the research into how to overcome the potentially lethal effects of the poison. Whilst the venom of the remipede have not been tested on humans, it has been proposed that it could be a cause for some of the mysterious disappearances of divers in the Caribbean. More research is set to be carried out on different species in the group in the coming years.
Von Reumont, B. M. et al. Mol. Biol. Evol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/molbev/mst199 (2013).