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Scorpions Can Tweak Their Venom in Response to Changing Threats

Scorpions Can Tweak Their Venom in Response to Changing Threats
From Gizmodo - October 11, 2017

New research shows that some scorpions can tailor their venom depending on the task at hand, whether it be snatching its next meal or protecting itself against predators. It marks the first time that scientists have documented the ability of an animal to adjust the toxicity of its venom according to need.

Scorpions need to be able to find and capture food (usually insects), but also deter predators (such as small mammals). Thankfully for these arachnids, venom can perform double-duty for these tasks, but as Jamie Seymour from James Cook University points out, scorpions produce venom thats specific for predators and another kind thats specific for prey. And in fact, scorpion venom is, at any given time, a complex mixture of different toxins.

Scorpions contain three separate subtypes of toxins that are effective against mammals only, insects only, and both, said Seymour in a statement. The question was whether the recipe for this cocktail is fixed or can adapt in response to different environments and predatorprey interactions.

Going into the study, Seymour figured that frequent exposure to predators should cause a scorpion to produce greater amounts of the defensive venom compared to offensive venom. To test this theory, he recruited a team of ecologists, chemists, physiologists, and a batch of Australian rainforest scorpions. Also known as Hormurus waigiensis, these two-to-three inch long scorpions are well adapted to the rainforests of Queensland and northeastern New South Wales.

For the experiment, Seymours team subjected these scorpions to one of three conditions: exposure to live crickets (prey), exposure to dead crickets (control), and exposure to a taxidermied mouse (which simulated a predator threat). After six weeks, the scorpions who were exposed to the simulated predator featured a very different venom chemistry than those who werent exposed to the taxidermied rodent.

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