Euchambersia. Illustration by Dmitry Bogdanov.
Euchambersia, the first terrestrial venomous vertebrate. Illustration by Dmitry Bogdanov.

When we think of venomous vertebrates, snakes are usually the first animals that come to mind. But the first terrestrial vertebrate to possess a venomous bite was not a snake; It was a therapsid — an animal more closely related to mammals than reptiles.

Therapsids lived 272 to 237 million years ago between the Permian and Triassic periods, but not all of them had a venomous bite. However, we do know that at least one of them did; and researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa shed light on this fascinating creature.

In South Africa, 257 million years ago (about 20 million years before the dinosaurs), a therapsid called Euchambersia mirabilis roamed what is now South Africa. It was found to have venom glands in its mouth, according to Dr. Julien Benoit, researcher at the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research at the University of the Witwatersrand:

“This is the first evidence of the oldest venomous vertebrate ever found, and what is even more surprising is that it is not in a species that we expected it to be.

“Today, snakes are notorious for their venomous bite, but their fossil record vanishes in the depth of geological times at about 167 million years ago, so, at 260 million years ago, the Euchambersia evolved venom more than a 100 million years before the very first snake was even born.”

Euchambersia venom gland hypothetical reconstruction - Image by Julien Benoit, Luke A. Norton, Paul R. Manger, Bruce S. Rubidge - Benoit, J.; Norton, L.A.; Manger, P.R.; Rubidge, B.S. (2017).
Euchambersia venom gland hypothetical reconstruction. Image by Julien Benoit, Luke A. Norton, Paul R. Manger, Bruce S. Rubidge – Benoit, J.; Norton, L.A.; Manger, P.R.; Rubidge, B.S. (2017).
Although Euchambersia was not a snake, it did have a similar venom delivery system. Using a pair of fangs attached to venom glands, it could bite and wound its prey to deliver lethal doses of venom.

What will we find next?Watch one of the most venomous creatures on earth today:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbpH9FrMAG4