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Backyard Roundup

August 5, 2011

Opossums and snakes are locked in a battle of evolutionary proportions.


Copperheads and other venomous snakes are in an arms race with opossums, according to research published in the journal PLoS One. While most animals shy away from the snakes, opossums feed on them, because they are resistant to viper venom. Previous studies have found that snake venom has been evolving at a fast pace. The new research has shown that opossums have compounds that are evolving just as fast to neutralize the venom.

In other backyard animal news, hummingbirds supplement their diet of flower nectar with insects, for protein. But how do they catch them with those pointy beaks? Well, according to researchers observing the birds with high speed cameras, they have a muscle that tugs the beak open when an insect is in range, and then releases the beak, so it snaps shut in just a hundredth of a second, trapping the prey inside. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.