As much as I am afraid of spiders, I have little fear of their cousins, scorpions. I think this is because as a child, I grew up in an area saturated with spiders (I recently visited home, and there are far too many spiders out there for my comfort. Now I know why I moved away), while the only time I ever saw a scorpion was on TV or at the Aquarium. Still, scorpions have been very underrepresented in this blog, as I haven’t done a single post about one.
I had a bit of trouble picking which scorpion to write about — there’s a lot of them and I’m not very familiar with them. Still, it only took a quick scroll through a list of scorpion species to realize which one I had to write about. How can I resist blogging about an animal called the deathstalker?
Deathstalkers are scorpions found in northern Africa and the Middle East. They can be found as far west as Algeria, and as far east as Iran. They live in very dry areas, burrowing under rocks or sand to avoid the heat of the desert. They are nocturnal, taking advantage of the cool desert nights to manage their temperature and water levels.
Deathstalkers get pretty big for scorpions, reaching eight to eleven centimetres in length. They are yellowy-green in colour, with thin legs. They have large pincers, though these are not the scorpions’ most dangerous appendages.
The pincers are used to grab the scorpion’s prey, which include insects, spiders, worms, and other scorpions. Once they have snagged a victim, deathstalkers sting them with their tail, which contains some of the most toxic scorpion venom around. The venom contains many powerful neurotoxins, which can lead to very serious conditions, such as death. A sting by a deathstalker scorpion usually won’t kill a healthy adult human, but will kill children, elderly, and infirm people.
There have been some medical applications of deathstalker venom, so scorpions aren’t all bad. One of the chemicals in the scorpion’s venom, chlorotoxin, has shown promise in treating cancerous brain tumours. There may also be some parts of the venom that can help regulate insulin, and thus treat diabetes.
Reproduction in deathstalkers involves males depositing a spermatophore on the ground, then leading the female over to it so she can take up the sperm. Once she is fertilized, the young scorpions develop inside her, receiving nutrients from her in a similar way to mammals. They are born live after about six months, and anywhere from 35 to 87 tiny little scorpions are born. They ride on their mother’s back for the first stage of their life, to regulate moisture and protect themselves from the big wide world.
Thanks to their widespread distribution and powerful venom, deathstalkers are commonly known as the most dangerous scorpions in the world. So watch out for them! At least they’re not spiders…
Cover image credit: Vladimír Trailin via http://www.biolib.cz/en/taxonimage/id106466/?taxonid=697065