"Fish with venomous dorsal spines produce immediate and blinding pain," Fry said in a statement. "The most pain I've ever been in, other than the time I broke my back, was from a stingray envenomation. 'Stingray' sounds so benign. They don't sting. They are pure hell."
Although the venomous fang blenny's bite lacks such a painful punch, people who keep these fish in aquariums must take care to house them with other species that are compatible, such as dwarf and large angelfish, cardinalfish, clownfish, damselfish, gobies, hawkfish, and tangs.
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Larger fish that prey on the blenny perhaps led to the evolution of its fangs. This happened before fang blennys evolved their venom, which is rare, Casewell said. He explained that in snakes and other venomous animals, rudimentary venom secretions evolved before the elaborate venom delivery mechanisms emerged.
Not all blennies are venomous. Some have evolved coloration and swimming behaviors similar to the venomous species. A few "faux" fang blennies use their mimicry to great advantage, getting right up into the faces of very large potential predator fish and feeding on their scales without any repercussions.
Casewell, Fry, and their colleagues hope to study fang blennies and the venom more in future, but time is of the essence. In the wild, these coral reef fish are found in Australia's highly threatened Great Barrier Reef and other tropical waters.
"The Great Barrier Reef is currently dying due to the effects of climate change, and the Australian government has been shockingly inactive in responding to this threat," Fry said. "Instead, it has just approved the largest coal mine in Australia's history, an action that will contribute to further climate change, and thus further threaten biodiversity-based medical research."
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