Has snake fang evolution lost its bite? New insights from a structural mechanics viewpoint.Biol Lett 2017; 13(8)BL
Venomous snakes-the pinnacle of snake evolution-are characterized by their possession of venom-conducting fangs ranging from grooved phenotypes characterizing multiple lineages of rear-fanged taxa to tubular phenotypes present in elapids, viperids and atractaspidines. Despite extensive research, controversy still exists on the selective pressures involved in fang phenotype diversification. Here, we test the hypothesis that larger fangs and consequently a shift to an anterior position in the maxilla evolved to compensate for the costs of structural changes, i.e. higher stress upon impact in tubular fangs compared to grooved fangs. Direct voxel-based stress simulations conducted on high-resolution µCT scans, analysed within a phylogenetic framework, showed no differences in stress distribution between the three fang phenotypes, despite differences in (relative) fang length. These findings suggest that additional compensatory mechanisms are responsible for the biomechanical optimization and that fang length might instead be related to differential striking behaviour strategies.