All reptiles possess salivary glands that lubricate food and begin the process of digestion. Saliva also cleans the teeth by digesting pieces of organic matter that might adhere to the teeth or be stuck between adjacent teeth. The venom that has evolved in snakes undoubtedly arose from salivary glands, and it has retained its original digestive function. Venom contains elements that immobilize and kill prey, and it facilitates digestion. It has been conclusively demonstrated in forcefeeding experiments in which rattlesnakes fed envenomated mice completed the digestion process significantly quicker than did conspecifics fed identical euthanized mice that had not been envenomated. Similar studies have been completed with comparable results for a variety of species, including rear-fanged snakes. In some rear-fanged snakes, venom is apparently used only for digestion and not for subduing prey or for defense. In the Mexican beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum) and the Gila monster (H. suspectum), the only venomous lizards, venom is apparently used strictly for defense and not for acquisition or digestion of prey.
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