The use of venom to subdue prey or deter predators has evolved multiple times in numerous animal lineages. Catfishes represent one of the most easily recognized, but least studied groups of venomous fishes. Venom glands surround spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins that serve as venom delivery structures. Species of madtom catfishes in the genus Noturus were found to each have one of four venom delivery morphologies: (1) smooth spine with no venom gland; (2) smooth spine with venom gland associated with shaft of spine; (3) serrated spine with venom gland associated with shaft of spine; and (4) serrated spine with venom gland associated with shaft of spine and posterior serrations. Analyses accounting for the phylogenetic history of Noturus species suggest that a serrated pectoral spine with a venom gland is the ancestral condition for the genus. The presence of serrations and a venom gland have been largely conserved among Noturus species, but sting morphology has changed at least five times within the genus. Four of these changes have resulted in a loss of morphological complexity, including the loss of posterior serrations, loss of venom glands associated with the posterior serrations, and one complete loss of the venom gland.
- Ancestral state reconstruction