A group of Australian researchers has unveiled the mystery of the painless - yet powerful - bite of a small Pacific fish, the fanged with fangs. When this inhabitant of the coral reef is swallowed by a predator, with a tight squeeze of jaws he regains his freedom: the unprepared fish that has swallowed it begins to tremble and swim in an uncoordinated way, he feels a sharp drop in pressure, relaxes his jaw and opens his mouth. At that point the slobber, unscathed, can escape.

8 small and deadly animals Image The CT scan of a slobber with poisonous fangs. Click to activate the GIF. | Anthony Romilio, via NYT

The ingredients to date secret of the deadly cocktail of the bite of the slobber have been identified by the scientists of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine of Queensland (Australia) and published in Current Biology.

Nicholas Casewell, among the authors, tested the venom of 11 species of western Pacific puffers, such as the Meiacanthus grammistes and the Meiacanthus atrodorsalis, identifying three main components.

No pain. The enkephalins, neurotransmitters of the endorphin family, also contained in the venom of some scorpions, act on the receptors of opium derivatives, and probably have an analgesic effect. They are substances of the same class as heroin and some pain medication.

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Another substance, neuropeptide Y (also secreted by sea snails), causes a pressure drop of almost 40% within 4 minutes. Finally, a third ingredient, an enzyme found in snake venom, generates inflammation.

Currently no applications are foreseen for these substances. The value of research, however, confirms the wealth of elements still unknown in the reef creatures, whose survival is threatened by human activities. The risk is to decimate them even before having known them.