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10 July 2016

A Quick Bite

A crossbow bolt is fired into a slab of ballistics jelly, but this is not a crime scene investigation – it’s a reconstruction of a snake attack. Many creatures deliver deadly toxins to their prey but, like a poison-tipped arrow, an effective bite or sting must first puncture the skin and plunge towards the bloodstream. This slow motion video reveals how flesh might buckle and resist during a puncturing attack. Using arrows of different weights and speeds, researchers found the most effective way to penetrate deep into tissue is ramping up the kinetic energy – meaning an increase in speed is more effective than a proportional increase in mass. This suggests quicker attacks may have evolved in smaller creatures, across species using teeth, claws or even tentacles to bring down their prey. The 'take home' warnings are clear: small bites can still be deadly, and some biologists now carry crossbows.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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