For humans, a centipede is nothing more than an ugly-looking crawler seen here and there.
But, do you know that a select group of these tiny, multi-legged critters spill out a venom so deadly that it takes down creatures 15 times larger than their size within seconds? A group of researchers in China is now unlocking the mystery of this powerful killing weapon.
In a study published in journal PNAS, the researchers studied the golden head centipedes aka Chinese red-headed centipedes found in parts of Hawaii and Asia. The creature, weighing just three gram, is known to have murderous capabilities and researchers wanted to see it. So, they brought a centipede close to a mouse weighing 45 grams.
Against what one would expect, the tiny crawler jumped on to the bigger mouse and took it down within 30 seconds.
Prompted by the nasty killing act, the team dug deep into the creature's venom and adopted novel techniques for chemical analysis. The results found that a strange molecule, named Ssm Spooky toxin, was the reason that its venom is so deadly.
The mysterious toxin acts as a blockade and restricts the movement of crucial salts in and out of the animal's cells. This, in turn, affects cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular and nervous functions and ultimately leads to death, the Washington Post reported.
The wide-spanning effects of the toxin include stopping heartbeat, hampering breathing, brain seizures and what not. The tiny critters cannot inject enough toxin to do this much harm to humans but there have been several fatalities in the past.
As Phys.org reports, approximately 10% of painful centipede bite cases have been critical in Hawaii, but deaths due to a sting like this have been extremely rare.
Understanding the working of the fearful centipede toxin also helped researchers find a way to reduce its effect. The group thinks that a drug called retigabine, typically used for epilepsy patients, should be able to do the job of an antidote and open the blocked cellular gateway. During initial tests, the drug proved effective but more tests would be required to use it is a full-fledged antidote.