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Scorpions Are Nature's Armored Survivalists
With pincers ever-poised for combat and an exoskeleton composed of the same material as human fingernails, the scorpion is the spike-wheeled tank of the insect world.
In some cultures, it represents evil and malicious intent, while in others, it's a stalwart guardian standing watch over royalty. Some even associate scorpions with sexuality, signified by their elaborate courtship ritual where the male and female dance around each other while interlocking their pincers.
But one thing all can agree on is that the scorpion is the ultimate survivor.
Scorpions Are Highly Adapted Creatures
There's no denying that the scorpion has an intimidating appearance, but that is simply a reflection of the hostile environment in which it thrives.
Widely assumed to be a desert-dwelling creature, in truth, the scorpion is built to endure a variety of habitats.
It can alter its metabolic rate, enabling it to go a year without food if need be.
It can survive being frozen overnight. A scorpion placed in the deep freeze and removed the following day will simply carry on its merry way once the ice has melted.
But one of the few things that can foil a scorpion's plans is lack of soil. They are nocturnal creatures and sensitive to light, so they seek to burrow underground or hide under rocks during the day. As such, a scorpion may not be able to survive in an area with heavy vegetation or permafrost.
Scorpions have limited vision but a powerful sense of smell. They are sensitive to vibrations and can use their tails to detect (and thereby avoid) light.
Giant Scorpions Once Roamed the Ocean
Evidence of scorpion existence dates back at least 430 million years. They are the oldest known land-dwelling animals to inhabit Gondwana (one of the two super-continents formed when Pangaea split around 200 million years ago).
However, there is evidence that the ancient ancestor of the scorpion inhabited the ocean rather than the land and ruled the aquatic food chain in much the same way as sharks do today.
A fossilized claw belonging to the species eurypterid, which lived between 460 and 255 million years ago, was discovered in a quarry in Germany. The claw size indicates that the scorpion in question may have been as long as 2.5 meters.
Today, scorpions can be found on every landmass in the world (except Antarctica).
Scorpion Mating Dance
How Do Scorpions Reproduce?
Despite being solitary creatures by nature, scorpions do engage in sexual reproduction.
But don't be fooled by their elaborate courtship rituals; a female scorpion will sometimes eat the male once the mating process is complete. As far as scorpions are concerned, romance is dead, as is the male if he sticks around too long.
Male scorpions travel considerable distances to find mates. The female emits a pheromone from her abdomen that males seek out and hone in on. The courtship dance of scorpions is known as promenade à deux and can be seen in the video above.
The male secrets a fluid that forms a stalk with a spermatophore at its end. He swivels and shifts to make contact with the female's gonopore, or genital opening; upon contact, the spermatophore ejects spermatozoa into the opening.
Scorpion mothers give birth to live babies, which is very unusual for non-mammalian animals. Generally, females can mate several times. There are even a couple of scorpion species that are known to become pregnant without mating, a process known as parthenogenesis. This involves the development of a female gamete without fertilization.
Motherhood is a different story. Female scorpions are protective of their litter, carrying them around on their back until they are ready to molt.
That said, not even the babies are guaranteed safety. Mother scorpions do occasionally eat their young. It's uncertain why this happens, but it may be an instinctive mechanism to prevent overpopulation.
Scorpion Life Expectancy
The average life expectancy is about two to ten years in the wild, though scorpions in captivity have been known to live as long as 25 years.
Scorpion Venom: The Power to Both Harm and Heal
All scorpions are venomous, but only 25 of 1,500 known species are actually dangerous to humans, and out of those, the majority are unlikely to pose a threat to a healthy adult. Children and the elderly are most at risk.
Potentially lethal species include:
- Bark Scorpion
- Yellow Fat Tail Scorpion
- Brazilian Yellow Scorpion
- Spitting Thick Tail Black Scorpion
1. Bark Scorpion
Commonly found in Arizona, USA, just a small dose of its venom can cause severe pain. Thankfully antivenom is widely available, so there have been no recorded deaths from its sting in several decades.
2. Yellow Fat Tail Scorpion
Found in desert regions in North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. Its venom causes at least several deaths a year, usually by heart or respiratory failure.
This aptly named species dwells in the Sahara, the Arabian desert, and parts of Asia. Their sting can cause pancreatitis and excess fluid buildup in the lungs.
4. Brazilian Yellow Scorpion
The most dangerous scorpion in South America, its sting causes an average of 3,000 deaths a year, making it deadlier than all other venomous creatures on the continent combined, including snakes and spiders.
5. Spitting Thick Tail Black Scorpion
Found in the southern regions of Africa, the poison of its sting is as potent as cyanide. As the name suggests, this genuinely terrifying arachnid can spit its venom up to a distance of one meter.
The Healing Properties of Scorpion Venom
Believe it or not, scorpion venom could potentially have powerful healing properties. Scientists have conducted experiments using venom to treat brain tumors, theorizing that it could paralyze cancerous cells while leaving the healthy cells unharmed.
Furthermore, traditional Chinese medicine has long utilized dried scorpion powder as an antidote for toxins. Some Chinese herbal compounds have even shown a therapeutic effect on nerve protection and epilepsy.
So the scorpion's incredible resilience is reflected in the power of its venom, which has the capacity to harm or heal.
The venom of the Arizona Bark Scorpion, despite being lethal against insects, snakes, and even birds, has been found to be utterly harmless against the grasshopper mouse. In fact, it actually acts as an effective painkiller, making the mouse even more mellow with each sting.
This is a rather frustrating experience for the scorpion, who will inevitably end up in the rodent's belly.
This mouse survives these potent and sophisticated venomous stings by virtue of a specific defense against the venom: a built-in protein housed in its nerve cells that binds to the toxin and blocks it.
Arizona Bark Scorpion Versus Grasshopper Mouse
- Scorpions | National Geographic
Meet one of history's great survivors, with ancestors going back hundreds of millions of years. Learn how a scorpion manipulates its metabolism in harsh climes.
- Giant Sea Scorpions Were the Underwater Titans of Prehistoric Australia | The Conversation
During the Paleozoic Era, giant sea scorpions would have been the equivalent of a great white shark in their food web.
- Androctonus – An Overview | ScienceDirect
Commonly thought of as arid-region dwellers, scorpions are amazingly adaptable and are found in tropical and subtropical regions and even the Himalayas. A vast majority of neurotoxic species are found in the Buthidae family.
- Scorpion – Description, Habitat, Species, Diet, & Facts | Britannica
Scorpion, (order Scorpiones or Scorpionida), any of approximately 1,500 elongated arachnid species characterized by a segmented curved tail tipped with a venomous stinger at the rear of the body and a pair of grasping pincers at the front.
- Spermatophore – An Overview | ScienceDirect Topics
The insect spermatophore is synthesized by the male accessory glands. It consists of a viscous secretion that is shaped by the internal structures of either the male or the female once it has been inserted into the female reproductive tract.
- Scorpion Venom Tested as Brain Cancer Treatment | Live Science
A synthetic version of the venom attaches to the cancer cells, then radiation in the potion kills them. More tests are needed, however.
- Chinese Herbal Compounds Containing Scorpion in the Treatment of Epilepsy | Medicine
Chinese herbal compounds containing scorpion (CHCCS) have shown an outstanding curative effect on nerve protection and epilepsy. But there's no study to assess its clinical efficacy and safety.
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