It is known that there are animals that acquire toxins through their diet or through their surroundings. The examples I know of include butterflies stocking up on alkaloids/glycosides while in the caterpillar stage (monarchs snacking on milkweed come to mind), fish acquiring ciguatoxin or tetrodotoxin from marine bacteria, and arrow poison frogs and pitohuis acquiring batrachotoxin and other nasties from the insects they eat. Are there any other nice examples of animals like these?

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    $\begingroup$ When you say co-opt, do you mean they use the toxin to their advantage? Or are you simply asking for examples of animals that can absorb/eat toxins and break them down? $\endgroup$ – Lisa Dec 15 '11 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ So far as I can tell, all the examples I gave use the toxin they've acquired thusly for defensive purposes. Experienced birds stay away from the monarch butterfly, Japanese chefs have to be exceedingly careful in preparing fugu, and an arrow poison frog in the wild is pretty but deadly. So yes, the first one. $\endgroup$ – user132 Dec 16 '11 at 1:21

Glaucus atlanticus consumes and reuses the nematocysts of jellyfish siphonophores. Perhaps not quite what you were looking for, as the animal doesn't simply concentrate the toxin, but actually co-opts entire stinging cells.

Further to your mention of dinoflagellate toxins being concentrated by fish, I seem to recall reading something about some toxins being modified in vivo into more toxic derivatives, but cannot find any mention of it.

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, I seem to recall that marine Vibrio species are the ones that produce tetrodotoxin and ciguatoxin; the only dinoflagellate toxins I'm familiar with are saxitoxin and azaspiracid, and I don't think I've encountered dinoflagellate feeders that use these toxins defensively themselves. But +1 for the nudibranch example. :) $\endgroup$ – user132 Dec 16 '11 at 3:09
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M. - Ciguatoxin is produced by G. toxicus. Didn't know about the vibrio toxins though, interesting. There are some other dinoflagellate toxins as well involved in shellfish poisoning, where the shellfish are tolerant of toxin concentrations that would be quite hazardous to people. $\endgroup$ – Richard Terrett Dec 16 '11 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ I'm familiar with "red tide", but are there mollusks that actually use dinoflagellate toxins for defensive purposes? $\endgroup$ – user132 Dec 16 '11 at 4:08

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