Natures Arms Race

January 15, 2018

The question of why some animals are venomous is a very good one. Why would an animal possess venom so potent, that it could kill a human being, yet it has no intention of eating us? It all comes down to Natures arms race.

The answer lies in the millions of years of evolutionary pressure that an animal has been living under, developing, honing and shaping its adaptations, behaviour and lifestyle. Through evolutionary pressures, animals have developed stings, fangs, pincers, venom spraying, cytotoxic venom, haemotoxic venom and neurotoxic venom.

Animals are venomous for two main reasons:

  • To catch prey.
  • To defend themselves.

Prey Capture

Venoms are often designed to immobilise prey. This ensures that once the prey is stung or bitten it cannot escape or cause harm to the predator.

Prey is often paralysed and not killed. Paralysed prey can be stored for a longer period of time compared to dead prey. Spiders will often store captured prey in their webs, to be consumed later.


Venom is also used as a defence mechanism, to ward off would be threats. When an animal is stung by a scorpion, it learns a hard but valuable lesson. The intense pain and discomfort it experiences is often enough to teach the animal to think twice before attacking the venomous animal again.

It’s interesting that highly venomous scorpions are those that forage for prey at night. These scorpions are more likely to come into contact with predators. If they cannot defend themselves they will be eaten. If they can defend themselves with their potent venom, this trait will be passed on to their next generation. As these scorpions evolve, they become more and more venomous.

Bees use their venom to defend themselves and their hive. While wasps also use their venom for defence, many use their venom to paralyse prey onto which they lay an egg, or for food for their developing larvae.

This race for survival can be best seen in harsh and arid environments. For example, the Kalahari Desert contains some of the world's most venomous scorpions, but it also contains animals such as Meerkats that are almost totally resistant to their venom.

Venom is not the only defence that animals have. Other means of defence include camouflage, sheltering in protected places, warning colouration and displays of aggression.


Cape Leopard Trust

In March 2021, the entire CLT team, including postgraduate students and interns, had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in the Cederberg attending an arachnid training course presented by Jonathan Leeming. A lot of fun was had by all and even the worst arachnophobes among our team left with a new appreciation for and understanding of this much maligned group of creatures!
Show me more...

Scorpion Antivenom

In partnership with Lowveld Venom Suppliers and myself, Jonathan Leeming, we participated in an insert for 50/ 50 focusing upon the production of scorpion antivenom and it's use. This program was filmed at the Lowveld Venom Suppliers laboratory in Hazyview and White River, and features Chris Hobkirk, the Lowveld Venom Suppliers Team and myself.
Show me more...

Kowie Museum Ant-Ticks 2019

Jonathan Leeming was invited as the guest speaker at the Kowie Museum in Port Alfred for a day of insects, arthropods and conservation. It was a chance to inspire and educate the next generation of conservationists and underpin the importance of insects in the greater scheme of things.
Show me more...

Scorpions Of Southern Africa 2019 Revision

Thoughts on writing Scorpions of Southern Africa, lessons learned along the way, the 2019 revision and the future... The first edition of Scorpions Of Southern African was published in 2003. It was a learning experience that brought me to where I am today. My 2019 revision of Scorpions of Southern Africa is not out. In […]
Show me more...

The Truth About Spiderbites In Southern Africa

The subject of spiderbite is a rabbit warren of hoax emails, misinformation, misconceptions and ignorance. It's almost impossible to identify a lesion or wound as being caused by a spiderbite, and at the same time, it's is equally impossible to say that a spider was not involved. Common sense says that unless you watch the […]
Show me more...

Scorpions of Debshan Ranch, Zimbabwe

Debshan Ranch is a 45,000 hectare cattle ranch located about 100km north of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. The below quick guide is a result of the Debshan Ranch scorpion survey held between April and March 2018. Debshan Ranch is part of the Diamond Route properties. This project was funded and supported by Oppenheimer Generations. Download this quick […]
Show me more...
1 2 3

Republish This Article

You are welcome to republish any of my articles in your newsletter, magazine or publication. 
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram