Prey specificity, comparative lethality and compositional differences of coral snake venoms

Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 2001 Mar;128(3):425-56. doi: 10.1016/s1532-0456(00)00215-5.


Toxicities of crude venoms from 49 coral snake (Micrurus sp.) populations, representing 15 nominal taxa, were examined in both laboratory mice and in native prey animals and compared with data gathered from two non-micrurine elapids and a crotalid, which served as outgroups. These venoms were further compared on the basis of 23 enzymatic activities. Both toxicities and enzymatic activities were analyzed with respect to natural prey preferences, as determined from stomach content analyses and literature reports. Venoms of nearly all Micrurus for which prey preferences are known, are more toxic to natural prey than to non-prey species. Except for amphisbaenians, prey are more susceptible to venoms of Micrurus that feed upon them, than to venoms of those that eat other organisms. All venoms were more toxic i.v.>i.p.>i.m. Route-specific differences in toxicity are generally greatest for preferred prey species. Cluster analyses of venom enzymatic activities resulted in five clusters, with the fish-eating M. surinamensis more distant from other Micrurus than even the crotalid, Bothrops moojeni. Ophiophagous and amphisbaenian-eating Micrurus formed two close subclusters, one allied to the outgroup species Naja naja and the other to the fossorial, ophiophagous Bungarus multicinctus. Prey preference is shown to be the most important determinant of venom composition in Micrurus.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Crotalid Venoms / analysis
  • Crotalid Venoms / toxicity
  • Elapid Venoms / toxicity*
  • Elapidae / metabolism*
  • Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Contents / chemistry
  • Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Injections, Intramuscular
  • Injections, Intraperitoneal
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Lethal Dose 50
  • Mice
  • Nucleotidases / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Snake Bites / metabolism
  • Snakes
  • South America
  • Species Specificity
  • Viper Venoms / chemistry
  • Viper Venoms / toxicity


  • Crotalid Venoms
  • Elapid Venoms
  • Viper Venoms
  • Hydrolases
  • Nucleotidases
  • nucleotidase
  • Endopeptidases