Rapid Radiations and the Race to Redundancy: An Investigation of the Evolution of Australian Elapid Snake Venoms

Toxins (Basel). 2016 Oct 26;8(11):309. doi: 10.3390/toxins8110309.


Australia is the stronghold of the front-fanged venomous snake family Elapidae. The Australasian elapid snake radiation, which includes approximately 100 terrestrial species in Australia, as well as Melanesian species and all the world's sea snakes, is less than 12 million years old. The incredible phenotypic and ecological diversity of the clade is matched by considerable diversity in venom composition. The clade's evolutionary youth and dynamic evolution should make it of particular interest to toxinologists, however, the majority of species, which are small, typically inoffensive, and seldom encountered by non-herpetologists, have been almost completely neglected by researchers. The present study investigates the venom composition of 28 species proteomically, revealing several interesting trends in venom composition, and reports, for the first time in elapid snakes, the existence of an ontogenetic shift in the venom composition and activity of brown snakes (Pseudonaja sp.). Trends in venom composition are compared to the snakes' feeding ecology and the paper concludes with an extended discussion of the selection pressures shaping the evolution of snake venom.

Keywords: coagulation; elapid; evolution; proteomics; redundancy; venom.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Blood Coagulation / drug effects
  • Elapid Venoms* / chemistry
  • Elapid Venoms* / genetics
  • Elapid Venoms* / toxicity
  • Elapidae / genetics
  • Elapidae / physiology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Predatory Behavior


  • Elapid Venoms