Archive for November, 2014

Hi? Hello? Hello? Oh pick up, you –

Hello, this is Horrific Animals of the World Helpline, how can we help you today?
Hi, is this Horrific Animals of the World Telephone helpline? I need some help!
Most people who call us do. That’s why its a helpline. What’s your problem?
Firstly, can you just confirm this call is not been monitored or recorded?
Sir, not to monitor or record this call would be in breach of numerous regulations, including-
I’ll give you a fiver.
Sold. Okay, no one is monitoring this call. So what’s the problem?
I think I may have sent a box of scorpions to someone.

Pictured: A box of scorpions. If your first thought was “That’s not a box” you were not paying attention to the most important word in that sentence.


I was demonstrating my disagreement to some of their stated beliefs as they relate to a universal system of morality.

and drunk.
Okay, the first thing to do is not to panic.
Really?
No, of course not, you idiot. You’ve sent a box of scorpions to someone. That is something the police tend not to approve of. They are likely to take a dim view of your actions here.
Okay, so I’m panicking. What else should I do?
Well, firstly, consider that according to Polis in his The Biology of Scorpions, only 25 species out of 1750 are thought to be harmful to humans.

This one – the Asian Forest Scorpion – is, incredibly, not capable of even slightly killing you. (Image credit: Wikimedia commons)

That is…slightly reassuring.
Believe me, a man in your position needs all the reassurance he can get.
That is considerably less reassuring.
Of course, if you have sent him a box of, say, Hottentotta tamulus, the most lethal scorpion in the world according to Bergeron and Bingham 2012, you could be in rather more trouble. Were the scorpions between four and six centimetres long and range in colour from a light yellow to a bright orange to a dark brown?

Like this. (Imagecredit from Panarthropoda.de)

I’ve no idea!
How can you not recall that?
I was drunk, remember. That’s how I got into this mess in the first place. Am I likely to find them in the UK?
No, the only scorpions you’ll find living in the wild in the UK are perhaps Yellowtailed scorpions or Euscorpus flavicaudis, which came over with Italian stonemasons 200 years ago. There’s about 10-15,000 of them in Sheerness (http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/may/12/robinmckie.theobserver). By contrast, H. tamulus is found in India, Nepal, East Pakistan and has recently been introduced to Sri Lanka (Ranawana et al 2013). All scorpions tend to hide during the day and come out at night. The problem is, they like to hide in small, dark places – like, say, inside shoes or clothes or cupboards.
Can we get back to telling me not to panic, please?
It gets worse. If the – err, box opener gets stung, he or she could be in for a world of hurt. The venom consists of a wide range of symptoms, from the rather obvious agonising pain and vomiting, to heart problems (either bradycardia or tachycardia – respectively, the heartbeat being either too low or high), lack of oxygen in the extremities, very low or highblood pressure, pink sputum, problems breathing, and in severe cases death (Bhadani et al 2006). Pulmory odema is a major problem, as the cardiac failures caused by the venom lead to fluid accumulating in the lungs, which leads to breathing problems.
You’re just making me feel worse!
You’re the person who drunkenly sent a box of scorpions to someone. The symptoms are caused by the venom, which is made up of neurotoxic peptides, as well as serotonin and some enzymes, including Hyaluronidase, which breaks down components of the extra-celluar matrix and might increase the speed at which the venom spreads through the body. Various ion channels in cells are blocked,leading to stimulation and then blocking of neuromuscular transmissions, as well as inducing spontaneous and prolonged action potentials, and stimulating the release of nuerotransmitters (Rowan et al 1992, Vantanpour et al 1993). In short, the venom throws the whole delicate system of cardiac control offbalance, leading to cardiac failure and respiratory collapse. Case fataility rates are between 3-22%, mostly children, the aged and infirm. All in all, approximately 250,000 scorpion envenomations take place east of Pakistan, with about 650 deaths a year (Kularatne, Scoprion and Hymenoptera stings).

“I am so much worse than I look, and I look awful” Imagecredit…as per picture.

There was literally no point in you telling me that, other than to outline how bad things could get for me.
Don’t worry. So long as the victim doesn’t come into contact with the sting, they should be okay. Of course, mentally they’ll be scarred from opening a box of scorpions sent to them by a complete lunatic.
Well, I guess that’s some consolation…
Of course, that isn’t the case if it is the South African Fattail Scorpion, or Parabuthus transvaalicus.
You know, I just knew you were going to say something like that.
It is reported to be able to spit its venom at least a metre, so people working with it are advised to wear safety glasses to avoid the agonising venom getting into their eyes. Its a lot less lethal than H. tamulus but the sting is still extremely painful. Plus…

Its also called the ‘Fat tail scorpion’, although obviously not to its face (imagecredit Wikimedia commons).

Oh dear Lord, he’s going on.
…they have something called prevenom. You see, the first time this scorpion stings you, it injects a substance that is different, chemically speaking, from the normal venom. This ‘prevenom’ contains more pottassium ions, and a lot fewer toxic proteins. Experiments on mice showed that this prevenom, although a lot less potent than the actual venom, appeared to cause greater pain. This means that the scorpion can – uh – dissuade potential predators by causing them great pain, whilst not wasting its main venom, which is much more energetically expensive to produce (Inceoglu et al 2003).
After hearing all this, I daresay you want to know how to locate scorpions in the dark, right?
Actually, I’m hoping you can provide me with a fake moustache, a passport in the name of ‘Oscar Gonzalez’ and a house in Peru.
Scorpions fluoresce in the dark, you know. If you expose them to UV light – say, from a blacklight, it’ll make them glow a strange, unearthly blue green.

Scorpions like dubstep as much as I do. (They hate dubstep) (Imagecredit: feelguide.com)

This doesn’t seem to be about a passport…
For a long time, no one was really sure why they did this. Some people thought that it was just an evolutionary accident, with no real purpose – perhaps a holdover from when their ancestors went around in daylight, and used this fluorescence as a mechanism to transform harmful UV light to harmless visible light. Others thought that it could be used to attract prey – despite the fact that some studies showed insects avoided glowing scorpions (Kloock 2005) (although we’re not really sure we needed a scientific study to find out this).

It was the quickest research they’d ever done.

But recently, its been thought that scorpions do this to avoid light – and thus predators. On a dark night, scorpions may not have sensitive enough vision to realise they are visible to predators – however, by picking up UV light, and converting it via fluorescence into a form it can see, they might be able to realise that they are in light – and take evasive action.
This is supported by the fact glowing scorpions tend to hide, whilst ones with their fluorescence depleted tend to happily wander around in the open, even if it is rather light (Kloock et al 2010). These results were further confirmed by Gaffin et al 2012 – who found that scorpions exposed to either green or UV light were more likely to seek shelter. It was also found that these scorpions, when their eyes were blocked, changed their behaviour much more under green light, seeking shelter less. However, this change was less apparant when exposed to UV light. Weirdly, it seems that the scorpion bodies themselves might be able to detect green light – effectively, their whole body becomes a gigantic eye. So, it could be that the UV is transformed into green light – which their whole body can then detect, allowing scorpions to more effectively seek shelter.
Basically, if some lunatic has posted a box of scorpions to you, just bring a blacklight, and wear thick boots.

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