Egg toxic compounds in the animal kingdom. A comprehensive review†
Covering: 1951 to 2022
Packed with nutrients and unable to escape, eggs are the most vulnerable stage of an animal's life cycle. Consequently, many species have evolved chemical defenses and teamed up their eggs with a vast array of toxic molecules for defense against predators, parasites, or pathogens. However, studies on egg toxins are rather scarce and the available information is scattered. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of animal egg toxins and to analyze the trends and patterns with respect to the chemistry and biosynthesis of these toxins. We analyzed their ecology, distribution, sources, occurrence, structure, function, relative toxicity, and mechanistic aspects and include a brief section on the aposematic coloration of toxic eggs. We propose criteria for a multiparametric classification that accounts for the complexity of analyzing the full set of toxins of animal eggs. Around 100 properly identified egg toxins are found in 188 species, distributed in 5 phyla: cnidarians (2) platyhelminths (2), mollusks (9), arthropods (125), and chordates (50). Their scattered pattern among animals suggests that species have evolved this strategy independently on numerous occasions. Alkaloids are the most abundant and widespread, among the 13 types of egg toxins recognized. Egg toxins are derived directly from the environment or are endogenously synthesized, and most of them are transferred by females inside the eggs. Their toxicity ranges from ρmol kg−1 to mmol kg−1, and for some species, experiments support their role in predation deterrence. There is still a huge gap in information to complete the whole picture of this field and the number of toxic eggs seems largely underestimated.