London, August 22 (ANI): Scientists report that a newt has evolved a bizarre and gruesome defence mechanism to protect itself against predators, by pushing out its ribs until they pierce through its body, exposing a row of bones that act like poisonous barbs.
Scientists say that the Spanish ribbed newt has to force its bones through its skin every time it is attacked.
Yet this bizarre behaviour appears not to cause the newt any ill effects.
According to a report by BBC news, scientists have used modern photographic and X-ray imaging techniques to reveal just how the animal does it.
What they discovered is even more gruesome than they imagined.
When the newt becomes agitated or perceives a threat, it swings its ribs forward, increasing their angle to the spine by up to 50 degrees.
As it does this, the newt keeps the rest of its body still.
"The forward movement of the ribs increases the body size and stretches the skin to the point of piercing it," said zoologist Egon Heiss of the University of Vienna in Austria.
The tips of the newt's ribs then stick outside its body, like exposed spines. Arrows point to a poisonous secretion which coats the tips of protruding ribs.
But there is more to the newt's defence, according to Heiss and his Vienna-based colleagues.
"When teased or attacked by a predator, the newt secretes a poisonous milky substance onto the body surface. The combination of the poisonous secretion and the ribs as 'stinging' tools is highly effective," said Heiss.
The impact on any predator can be striking, particularly if they try to bite the newt or pick it up using their mouth.
Then, the poison in almost injected into the thin skin within the mouth, causing severe pain or possibly death to the attacker.
As well as elucidating the spear-like shape of the ribs, and exactly how the ribs swing forward and protrude, the scientists have demonstrated that the bones must break through the newt's body wall every time the amphibian evokes the defence response.
Surprisingly, the newt appears to suffer no major ill effects, despite repeatedly puncturing its own body and exposing its rib bones.
"Newts, and amphibians in general, are known to have an extraordinary ability to repair their skin," said Heiss.Anyway, if this newt can avoid being eaten in some cases, this surely has a positive influence," said Heiss.
It also seems that the newt is immune to its own poison, which is normally confined to glands in the newt's body. (ANI)