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Scientists have learned that venomous humans could one day become real. The headline elicits the response, “Aren’t they already venomous?” For example, watching politicians talk, one gets the idea that malevolent reptilians may be in government positions today. At this point, who would be surprised?
But seriously, it goes back to our ancient past, when humans and reptiles shared a common ancestor.
Today, there are thousands of venomous animals, both reptiles and a few mammals. For example, shrews and some moles are venomous. Unlike many venomous snakes, mammals have venom that is watery, dilute, and profuse.
“… salivary tissue of most mammals produce large volumes of very dilute mixtures, while snake venom glands produce highly concentrated mixtures of diverse toxins,” the scientists from Japan and Australia wrote.
After the scientists studied thousands of genes associated with venom production, they discovered that the same genes and physical mechanisms were at work in saliva glands and venom glands.
So, while humans currently don’t secrete venomous proteins, in time, we could do so. However, snakes are far more highly evolved in that regard, with potent venom used sparingly.
Human Bites – Already Dangerous
Even without venom, a human bite is dangerous, as you may have learned the hard way as a child. The Mayo Clinic states a human bite may be more dangerous than an animal bite due to bacteria and viruses always present in our mouths.
Often, people bitten by a person will require a tetanus shot. So, the need to evolve venom seems a redundant step.
On the other hand, there are ample ancient stories of human-snake hybrids, and the word “venom” may be derived from Venus, the Roman goddess of love. (Greek Aphrodite) Her charms to arouse became synonymous with poison.
The Latin venemum, meaning “magical charm, potent drug,” later became “deadly substance, poison.”
“The ‘poison’ meaning appears in Old French in the form venim, which Middle English borrowed as venim or venom. Oh, Venus, you wily goddess you. Makes you wonder just what she’s thinking in that seashell pic,” writes Merriam-Webster.
As we all know well, some may already be poisonous in the art of love.
Venomous Humans That Hibernate
Recently, scientists also learned that humans might have the capacity for hibernation as well. In the distant past, early human beings probably hibernated, according to research into their fossilized remains. It all goes back to our mammalian ancestry.
Thus, Neanderthals once hibernated alongside cave bears to avoid harsh winters. However, that doesn’t mean they were particularly good at hibernation, as evidence by signs of seasonal malnutrition and disease.
Today, doctors can induce a state of torpor while patients undergo surgery. In the future, our capacity to hibernate may make it possible for our species to escape Earth on long voyages into space. It’s a subject of 1968’s Sci-Fi classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, that recently drew attention due to monoliths appearing all over the place.
We Owe Our Spines to Ancient Mud Gulpers
When you consider how humans are distantly related to other species, it makes you wonder what other traits we could evolve? After all, we have many distant relatives. Going back further, we trace our ancestry to creatures lurking in the oceans.
Some people owe their spines to these creatures, while other people are apparently still working on it. You just know it’s the spineless folks who are more likely to become venomous.
Millions of years ago, creatures that looked like the Roomba of the seas moved about on the seafloors. Armored bottom-dwelling fish called osteostracans (meaning “bony shields”) gulped mud with no jaws some 400 million years ago. Inside, they had a primitive bony internal endoskeleton.
Thanks to those humble beginnings, scientists think we developed bones and vertebrae, serving like batteries of energy that made it possible to slither onto land awkwardly.
Moving about in shallow waters where ocean waves crashed, bones possibly helped them withstand the surf. As an added benefit, the resulting energy reserves allowed them to explore and eventually move to land. From there, evolution led to amphibians, reptiles, birds, and venomous mammals.
See the osteostracans from PBS Eons below:
Earliest Distant Relatives
Going back even further, you can see a simulation of what may be one of our earliest recognizable ancestors, Pikaia gracilens, an extinct small chordate animal from the Middle Cambrian period, “time of ancient life.” It looks like a gliding eel with a primitive forerunner of the backbone called a notochord, a flexible supportive rod.
The period from over 500 million years ago marked a burst of evolutionary changes called the “Cambrian Explosion.”
It’s all a bit humbling but also a critical lesson in how all species are very much interconnected and dependent entirely on each other. May we learn this lesson before we evolve into venomous humans.