Neuron-like machinery helps anemones decide when to sting

The predatory starlet sea anemone

Nature Photographers Ltd/Alamy

A special protein that functions a bit like a neuron allows anemones to choose when and who to sting. Understanding how these cells guide stinging decisions shows how even the tiniest, subtle molecular evolutionary adaptations can drastically change an organism’s behavior.

Anemones sting by shooting out venom-covered barbs called nematocytes. Once these are shot out, they can grow to 20 to 50 times their original size and travel at the speed of a fired bullet, according to Nicholas Bellono at Harvard University.

“It’s one of …