Toads are chemically defended by bufadienolides, a class of cardiotonic steroids that exert toxic effects by binding to and disabling the Na+/K+-ATPases of cell membranes. Some predators, including a number of snakes, have evolved resistance to the toxic effects of bufadienolides and prey regularly on toads. Resistance in snakes to the acute effects of these toxins is conferred by at least two amino acid substitutions in the cardiotonic steroid binding pocket of the Na+/K+-ATPase. We surveyed 100 species of snakes from a broad phylogenetic range for the presence or absence of resistance-conferring mutations. We found that such mutations occur in a much wider range of taxa than previously believed. Although all sequenced species known to consume toads exhibited the resistance mutations, many of the species possessing the mutations do not feed on toads, much less specialize on that food source. This suggests that either there is little performance cost associated with these mutations or they provide an unknown benefit. Furthermore, the distribution of the mutation among major clades of advanced snakes suggests that the origin of the mutation reflects evolutionary retention more than dietary constraint.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3569520.
- Received September 25, 2016.
- Accepted October 18, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.