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Toxic Discoveries

Two scientists team up to study deadly animal venom

Friends can bond over unusual things. For Ronald Jenner and Eivind Undheim, it was centipede venom. The two scientists live half a world apart, yet they teamed up to study venomous creatures.

When people think about venomous animals, snakes and scorpions often come to mind. Yet more than 200,000 species produce it. They include insects, reptiles, mammals, and marine animals.

A venomous giant desert centipede can grow to be up to 6 inches long!

Most studies have focused on spiders and scorpions. Jenner and Undheim hope their work will shed light on lesser-known venomous species, such as centipedes and marine worms.

Venom is a toxic substance that organisms transmit to victims through a wound from a bite or sting. This makes it different from a poison, which must be touched or swallowed to have an effect.

Animals make venom to prey on other animals or defend against attack. For example, a honeybee’s sting tells a potential predator to back off. “Quick pain is really effective,” says Jenner.

Venomous octopus

Venom contains proteins that disrupt a specific function in the target’s body. Some venom prevents muscles from working, causing the victim to become paralyzed. Other venom can kill by affecting blood flow to the heart.

Venomous sea urchin

Jenner and Undheim have been all over the world to study venomous octopuses, vampire bats, and assassin bugs, which prey on bees, flies, and caterpillars.

They want to know how venom has evolved, or changed, over time. They focus on centipedes because these arthropods are one of the world’s oldest groups of venomous land animals.

“Science is all about discovery,” says Jenner. “With venom, there’s still so much to discover.”

Math Talk

Is there anything about the data in the chart that surprises you?

Continue the Learning Journey

Look at the “Math Talk” chart above about venomous animals. Set up four medium-sized containers (bowls, buckets, etc.) in a row and label one of each with one of the following numbers: 100, 1,000, 10,000, and 100,000. Then crumple up 10 pieces of paper to make 10 balls. Build each number in the chart by tossing the balls into the correct place value while standing three feet away. 


For example: To build the number 2,300, you would toss two balls into the 1,000 container and three balls into the 100 container. See how long it takes you to build all six!

How to Make a Friendship Bracelet

Watch a video to learn how to make a friendship bracelet.

Scientists Ronald Jenner and Eivind Undheim bonded over their love of venomous creatures. Think about a family member or friend you’re close with. What do you bond over? What interests do you share? Write this person a note to thank them for their friendship! Ask a trusted adult for help mailing or sending your note. If you want, you can also make them a friendship bracelet. Don’t know how? Watch the video above from our friends at Klutz!

Rattlesnakes are venomous animals common to the U.S. Their name comes from the rattle located at the end of their tails. The snakes vibrate their tails to create a loud rattling noise to warn predators to stay away. Create your own rattle with items you have at home, like toilet paper rolls, rice, beans, and rubber bands. Think about which items would make the loudest sound to keep predators away!

This article was written by Alexa Kurzius for Scholastic DynaMath magazine.