Diet Diversity in Carnivorous Terebrid Snails Is Tied to the Presence and Absence of a Venom Gland

Toxins (Basel). 2021 Feb 2;13(2):108. doi: 10.3390/toxins13020108.


Predator-prey interactions are thought to play a driving role in animal evolution, especially for groups that have developed venom as their predatory strategy. However, how the diet of venomous animals influences the composition of venom arsenals remains uncertain. Two prevailing hypotheses to explain the relationship between diet and venom composition focus on prey preference and the types of compounds in venom, and a positive correlation between dietary breadth and the number of compounds in venom. Here, we examined venom complexity, phylogenetic relationship, collection depth, and biogeography of the Terebridae (auger snails) to determine if repeated innovations in terebrid foregut anatomy and venom composition correspond to diet variation. We performed the first molecular study of the diet of terebrid marine snails by metabarcoding the gut content of 71 terebrid specimens from 17 species. Our results suggest that the presence or absence of a venom gland is strongly correlated with dietary breadth. Specifically, terebrid species without a venom gland displayed greater diversity in their diet. Additionally, we propose a revision of the definition of venom complexity in conoidean snails to more accurately capture the breadth of ecological influences. These findings suggest that prey diet is an important factor in terebrid venom evolution and diversification and further investigations of other understudied organisms, like terebrids, are needed to develop robust hypotheses in this area.

Keywords: Terebridae; diet diversity; venom.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animal Structures / anatomy & histology
  • Animal Structures / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Carnivory*
  • Diet*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Mollusk Venoms / genetics
  • Mollusk Venoms / metabolism*
  • Predatory Behavior*
  • Snails / anatomy & histology
  • Snails / genetics
  • Snails / metabolism*
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcriptome


  • Mollusk Venoms