Snake's powerful venom could lead to better painkillers for humans

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A reptile with electric blue stripes and neon-red head and tail, the snake grows up to two metres long.

Paralysing their prey in this manner, much like how a spider or scorpion uses venom, allows them to take control of the situation - which is pretty important, if you spend your days hunting cobras and other venomous snakes.

In their report, the scientists described the toxin as an evolutionary development in the "chemical arms race" between the coral snake and its prey, which include deadly kraits and king cobras.

"This style of venomous predation is identical to that of a cone snail, and not like any other snake in the world", Fry explained.

The study appeared in the journal Texas. The snake has one of the biggest poison glands, and it extends a third of its length.

"Their blazingly fast venom does not kill immediately".

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"It's also the first vertebrate to do this via sodium channels", Dr Fry said.

It's nasty business, but evolution has equipped the blue coral snake with this particularly powerful venom for a reason.

"However some animals cause their prey's nerves to become fried by a massive shock to the system", he said. The cone snail, for example, injects a similar kind of toxin into fish, causing them to go into an instant paralysis, where they fully tense their muscles in a tetanus-like spasm. The compounds within the venom prevent the nerves from turning off their sodium channels, which results in the nerve firing continuously. "This keeps the fish from escaping the immobile snail".

Understanding sodium channel disruption has been a long-term pursuit of pharmaceutical researchers, because it's thought that it could hold the keys to unlocking better pain treatments for those with chronic ailments.

While the length of the long-glanded blue coral snake's venom glands was known, the way the venom worked hadn't been studied. "This is another in the long line of useful discoveries from venom that could benefit human health". "You get sleepy, slow, before you die", said Dr Bryan Fry of the University of Queensland who is one of a team of researchers working on a study into the effect of the snake's venom.

I for one, welcome our new snake overlords. Unfortunately, the species is rare to find as up to 80% of its natural habitat has been destroyed.

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