Deceit in Nature

As a species, we can be quite hard on ourselves. Nature is often separated from Homo sapiens and put on a pedestal of purity and goodness while we lament our species’ wickedness. I’m not going to touch that philosophical debate with double-layered lab gloves on, but I’m here to tell you that, as humans, we’re hardly the pioneers of deceit and cruel treachery. I’ll save war, murder, and rape for another post (with triple-layered gloves), but today I want to show you some of the fascinating ways nature has us beat with how underhand and brilliantly sneaky it can be.

The fundamentals of life come down to survival and reproduction. If you survive long enough to reproduce, you pass your genes on. If you don’t, you’re an evolutionary dead end…literally. Consequently, any adaptations that increase the ability of organisms to survive (avoid predators, catch prey, save energy, etc) and reproduce (avoid angry rival males, kill angry rival males, woo females, efficiently invest energy into making and raising babies, not accidentally kill your babies, etc) are selected for and propagated. There are no morals or rules of conduct in nature, so this leads to a wide array of ridiculous behaviors that would certainly be frowned upon in human society.

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Venom: Nature’s Deadliest Creatures

Animals have been evolving toxins for millions of years, perfecting the art of paralyzing prey, killing targets, and deterring predators. While poison is either ingested or inhaled, venom is toxin delivered directly into the target’s circulation by means of a bite, sting, or other rudely penetrative means. Even the more mild venoms from tiny insects are impressively efficient; a bee can create havoc in an animal hundreds of times its own mass (a 1/10 gram bee compared to a 70 kilogram human).

Despite the fact that some of us experience complete mental breakdowns the minute a venomous creature passes by, humans have been harvesting and utilizing animal venom for hundreds of years. The key to many of these toxins is their astonishing specificity; they bind to an exact spot on a specific protein in only certain types of cell to achieve an precise, and devastating, effect. This incredible feat is far beyond our own ability to engineer, and so we study these toxins, altering them for use in life-saving therapies and medicines. In order to celebrate these amazing chemicals (and because venomous animals are too cool to pass up), let’s see how some of the deadliest venoms work.

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