Of toxic newts and snakes: resistance isn’t always futile

A few years ago an interesting study by Charles Hanifin and colleagues described the ongoing arms race between the toxic newt of the genus Taricha and local populations of garter snakes .  While the newt apparently produce their own tetrodotoxin (of puffer fish fame) some garter snakes seem to dine upon them with impunity.  Hanifin et al’s paper provides some insight into the complexity of coevolutionary theory, and  reveals a fascinating detail about resistance in this case. It seems that for newts and snakes the arms-races may continue to escalate until the predator per chance undergoes a single mutation which in turn causes a large effect – in this case “extreme resistance.” In other words, the snake evolves to become a “super-power.”

Unfortunately for the underdog prey, according to the authors their findings suggest “that it is possible for the predator, but not the prey, to evolutionarily escape the reciprocal selection of the arms race.”

Read more here: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060060

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