Which snakes have the sharpest teeth? Scientists are closer to answering the question

By Australian Geographic 17 May 2021
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New research shows snake fangs have evolved alongside a snake’s preferred prey.

A snake’s fangs have evolved to perfectly pierce the skin of their preferred prey, scientists have revealed.

Using high-resolution 3D scanning, researchers have analysed the fangs of snakes’ with varying diets for unique patterns. 

While some snakes eat small reptiles and mammals, others may eat crustaceans, which require tougher teeth. 

“We show that the fangs of venomous snakes are adapted to the outer layer of their preferred prey, where slender fangs with sharp tips are found when snakes target soft-skinned prey, while the fangs are more robust and blunt in snakes that feed on scaly and hard-shelled prey,” says PhD candidate Silke Cleuren, who led the study.

A database of the 3D scans was created enabling the scientist to observe fangs across the snake family tree. This led to the discovery that fangs from distantly related snake species with the same prey type have similar-looking fangs, more similar than closely related species that have different diets.

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“Evolution has found ideal solutions for snake fangs – no matter what type of snake, anywhere across the world, the fangs match their favourite food,” says Associate Professor Alistair Evans. “This is convergent evolution at its best, solving the problem of how to break into your prey without breaking your fangs.”

According to Silke, knowing the fang shape of a snake can help conserve endangered species. “The fangs tell us the likely preferred diet, so we should [if having to relocate/rehome an animal] find suitable habitat that contains that snake’s favourite meal.”

The research also has the potential to prevent deadly snake bites. “From knowing how sharp and blunt snake fangs really are, we can design and test protective clothing against snake bites,” Silke says 

“Now you will know whether you are safe from snake bites when wearing your favourite pair of jeans.”