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September 20, 2018

Mutation enhances survival

Sea Anemone
Sea Anemone

It is interesting to note that any time there is an announcement from the government that there will be a recruitment to join the disciplined forces, it is the police force that makes news of abnormalities in the selection mode. Although other sectors like the army and the youth service may not make as much bad news during the recruitment as the police, they are not without hitches here and there. It seems in this country, some of the careers that do not attract attention in developed world would be a matter of life and death to get in. It would not be strange to find a politician refusing to be appointed as an ambassador and would rather sell all he owns to try and get into Parliament. Why are these positions so attractive, even after the general population has little respect to those who get there?

We have had highly intelligent people in the society. Some of them have been instrumental in the well being of their neighbours and communities. Some of them have been prominent lawyers and intellectuals. But as soon as they get into elective politics, they mutate into brainless mouthpieces and become an embarrassment to those who elected them into office. It is a most interesting phenomenon, but not to naturalists who understand strange animal behaviours. Let’s try to draw a parallel here.

Some animals use poison as a weapon to protect themselves against enemies. Other animals relate with the poisonous ones in an effort to use them as proxy to protect themselves, just like a junior police officer would cultivate a close relationship with a senior one for the sake of protection as he feeds his boss from bribes.

One of the most fascinating chapters in animal poison is the subject of natural immunity – the fact that some animals are immune to poisons of others and remain unhurt when stung or bitten by the poisonous ones, whereas all other sort of beasts succumb. The desert fox and some mongoose living in the dry areas fall in this happy group. They are immune to the poison of the scorpions. Their cousins who live away from the desert would quickly die from a scorpion sting. It is supposed that in the far distant past, before the desert animals had this complete immunity to scorpion venom, those who could not resist the poison from scorpions died out and left no offspring. Their luckier brothers of a hardier constitution survived and left behind them a resistant race of descendants.

Another bizarre instance of this same phenomenon is provided by certain crabs which carry on their backs a kind of sea anemone. A sea anemone is a plantlike animal with the power of stinging like a jelly fish. Minute capsules, each with a needle for penetrating the skin of the victim are shot out in uncountable numbers when the sea anemone is under attack. As the poison is very harmful, very few enemies will venture to attack the happy creature. Consequently the crab walks about with the sea anemone on his back for its own protection, and the anemone enjoys the advantage of sharing the crab’s meals by stretching down its food catching tentacles inside the mouth of the crab and steals a little bit of food.

We now come to the most curious part of this story. How is it that the anemone’s arsenal of poisonous capsules does not harm the crab? True, the crab has an armour of thick shell protecting its outside. But one would think the poison would get into the crab’s system through the mouth when the sea anemone is stealing food. But research has revealed that if the poison is extracted with a syringe from the anemone and directly injected into any ordinary crab, the crab dies in minutes. But injected into the system of the crab that carries the anemone, the poison is ineffective. The reason is that the crab was not born with the immunity, like the desert creatures whose offsprings survived the scorpion stings. When one crab adopts a sea anemone as a permanent guest, it gradually becomes immune to the visitor’s poison. Each time an enemy gets close to the crab, the anemone shoots out a capsule of poison. The crab is forced to swallow a number of the poison capsules almost daily. Since the dosage is small and largely harmless, after a long time the crab becomes immune.

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