Animal venoms are recognised as unique biological systems in which to study molecular evolution. Venom use has evolved numerous times among the insects, and insects today use venom to capture prey, defend themselves from predators, or to subdue and modulate host responses during parasitism. However, little is known about most insect venom toxins or the mode and tempo by which they evolve. Here, I review the evolutionary dynamics of insect venom toxins, and argue that insects offer many opportunities to examine novel aspects of toxin evolution. The key questions addressed are: How do venomous animals evolve from non-venomous animals, and how does this path effect the composition and pharmacology of the venom? What genetic processes (gene duplication, co-option, neofunctionalisation) are most important in toxin evolution? What kinds of selection pressures are acting on toxin-encoding genes and their cognate targets in envenomated animals? The emerging evidence highlights that venom composition and pharmacology adapts quickly in response to changing selection pressures resulting from new ecological interactions, and that such evolution occurs through a stunning variety of genetic mechanisms. Insects offer many opportunities to investigate the evolutionary dynamics of venom toxins due to their evolutionary history rich in venom-related adaptations, and their quick generation time and suitability for culture in the laboratory.

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