Unique toxin helps golden head centipede paralyze and consume large prey

Avatar By Joseph Scalise | 3 years ago

A team of international researchers has discovered how the golden head centipede is able to stun, kill, and devour prey 15 times its size, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.

In the study, researchers set out to better understand the way the golden head hunts and eats prey. The deadly species, which is one of the most efficient venomous predators on Earth, commonly hunts smaller animals like insects. However, it also can take down animals that are up to 15 times its size. As the species lives throughout China and Hawaii, it has also been known to fatally bite humans as well.

In the research, the team found the secret behind the invertebrate’s bite by identifying a never-before-seen toxin known as Ssm Spooky Toxin. From there, they analyzed the venom and found that it blocks a set of cellular machinery called KCNQ channels that cells use to pass salts in and out of themselves. Blocking such paths causes blood vessels in the centipede’s prey to spasm, sometimes strongly enough to cause death. If the toxin enters the brain it can cause seizures as well.

“Centipedes’ venom has evolved to simultaneously disrupt cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular and nervous systems,” said study co-author Shilong Yang, a researcher at the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China, according to The Washington Post. “This molecular strategy has not been found in other venomous animals.”

Though the team is not sure how to combat the venom, early testing shows that the epilepsy drug retigabine — which opens those KCNQ channels back up — could be the answer. Most of the time antivenom is tailored to a specific species, but in this case they found a solution by looking at the damage, Newsweek reports.

They next plan to test the drug on centipede bite victims to see how it works on a larger scale.