The Curious Case of the "Neurotoxic Skink": Scientific Literature Points to the Absence of Venom in Scincidae

Toxins (Basel). 2021 Feb 3;13(2):114. doi: 10.3390/toxins13020114.

Abstract

In contrast to the clearly documented evolution of venom in many animal lineages, the origin of reptilian venom is highly debated. Historically, venom has been theorised to have evolved independently in snakes and lizards. However, some of the recent works have argued for the common origin of venom in "Toxicofera" reptiles, which include the order Serpentes (all snakes), and Anguimorpha and Iguania lizards. Nevertheless, in both these contrasting hypotheses, the lizards of the family Scincidae are considered to be harmless and devoid of toxic venoms. Interestingly, an unusual clinical case claiming neurotoxic envenoming by a scincid lizard was recently reported in Southern India. Considering its potentially significant medicolegal, conservation and evolutionary implications, we have summarised the scientific evidence that questions the validity of this clinical report. We argue that the symptoms documented in the patient are likely to have resulted from krait envenomation, which is far too frequent in these regions.

Keywords: neurotoxic venoms in skinks; the origin of reptilian venom; venom evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bites and Stings / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Lizards / genetics
  • Lizards / metabolism*
  • Neurotoxins / adverse effects
  • Neurotoxins / genetics
  • Neurotoxins / metabolism*
  • Phylogeny
  • Venoms / adverse effects
  • Venoms / genetics
  • Venoms / metabolism*

Substances

  • Neurotoxins
  • Venoms