Variation in venom yield and protein concentration of the centipedesScolopendra polymorphaandScolopendra subspinipes

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Abstract

Venom generally comprises a complex mixture of compounds representing a non-trivial metabolic expense. Accordingly, natural selection should fine-tune the amount of venom carried within an animal's venom gland(s). The venom supply of scolopendromorph centipedes likely influences their venom use and has implications for the severity of human envenomations, yet we understand very little about their venom yields and the factors influencing them. We investigated how size, specifically body length, influenced volume yield and protein concentration of electrically extracted venom in Scolopendra polymorpha and Scolopendra subspinipes. We also examined additional potential influences on yield in S. polymorpha, including relative forcipule size, relative mass, geographic origin (Arizona vs. California), sex, time in captivity, and milking history. Volume yield was linearly related to body length, and S. subspinipes yielded a larger length-specific volume than S. polymorpha. Body length and protein concentration were uncorrelated. When considering multiple influences on volume yield in S. polymorpha, the most important factor was body length, but yield was also positively associated with relative forcipule length and relative body mass. S. polymorpha from California yielded a greater volume of venom with a higher protein concentration than conspecifics from Arizona, all else being equal. Previously milked animals yielded less venom with a lower protein concentration. For both species, approximately two-thirds of extractable venom was expressed in the first two pulses, with remaining pulses yielding declining amounts, but venom protein concentration did not vary across pulses. Further study is necessary to ascertain the ecological significance of the factors influencing venom yield and how availability may influence venom use.

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