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ScienceShot: Toxic Greens Protect Smurf-Tongued Lizards

10 February 2012 3:35 pm
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Kanishka Ukuwela/Flickr; (inset) Tau'olunga/Wikimedia Commons

Eating your greens is good for you, but if you're a bluetongue lizard, it might just save your life. New research finds that the toxic mother-of-millions plant (Bryophyllum spp.) protects some bluetongues (Tiliqua scincoides) from cane toad (Rhinella marina) toxins. Both the plant and the toad were introduced to different parts of Australia around 1935, both produce a similar toxin (bufadienolide) that can stop the heart, and both are consumed by bluetongues. When injected with non-lethal doses of bufadienolide, bluetongues from areas without mother-of-millions (inset) swam 50% slower than before they were injected, while those that live in areas with the plant only swam 20% slower, researchers report in a forthcoming issue of American Naturalist. That suggests that bluetongue lineages from mother-of-millions areas have built up a resistance to bufadienolide over time. The team hopes bufadienolide resistance will lessen the impact of another potential invader with similar toxins, the black-spined toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), on this native lizard.

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