Hello loyal subjects! Your Scorpion King is back with another update.
First I’ll some news from the homeland-more scorpions have joined the family! There are now a pair of Red Claw scorpions (named for their large, reddish tinted claws) among my 8-legged roommates.
Dinner time! Here’s a video I got of my Red Claw chowing down on a cricket
Watching them eat is pretty weird, their “mouths” are nothing like a mammals…
What you can see there are the scorpions’ chelicerae – they’re like tiny claws right in front of their mouth that tear apart the food – the scorpion equivalent to teeth. A dentist would certainly have a hard time with a scorpion…
These are definitely “don’t try this at home” scorpions – they’re known for their aggression, and have been both creative and persistent in their attempts to escape. They always pay their rent on time though, so I can’t complain about them as roommates. The first night I shared a room with them, I observed the scorpions hanging from the vents on top of their box, which they gripped with their claws and used to move across the enclosure like a kid on playground monkey bars.
I can’t even manage a single pull up, but this guy… It’s like a terrifying version of recess.
Last week I was witness to another fascinating behavioral development-one of the scorpions summoned the willpower to walk sideways across the sheer plastic wall of its enclosure, in the style of The Matrix.
Notice any similarities?
On the experimental side, the focus has been continuing to study the scorpions’ induced defensive response. First came the ability to induce a dramatic stinging response by electrically simulating the scorpions’ leg (like a phantom grasp). However, stinging isn’t the only weapon in the scorpions’ formidable arsenal – in the Palka and Babu 1967 paper, grasping the front four legs was reliably able to get the scorpion to respond with its pedipalps (technical name for the large claws) and occasionally tail too. So I hypothesized that microstimulation of the front legs in the same way as the back ones would get a directional response with the claws, similar to the response with the tail.
In this video, I saw a definite response to the stimulation, with the scorpion attempting to attack its “phantom” prey
With the successful induction of both of these defensive/offensive responses, I decided to grow my scorpion family with 4 more of a fascinating species – the Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion – the largest species in North America, and native to the western part of the United States.
Checking its reflection-even scorpions have bad hair days, he’s actually looking pretty cute in this picture.
The first thing I noticed when I encountered these was the difference in their pedipalps compared to the other species I have worked with. Its pedipalps were thin compared to the other species, which reflects a difference in their predatory behavior. Whereas, say, the Red Claw will use its (relatively) enormous pedipalps to crush prey, rarely utilizing their sting, the Desert Hairy uses its pedipalps to hold prey in place while it repeatedly stings it. As it turns out, this also reflected a difference in the scorpions’ defensive behavior.
The LED flash indicates a stimulation occuring
According to the Palka and Babu paper, when a scorpions’ leg is grasped, if it is a species with “well developed pedipalps”, like the Asian Forest Scorpions in the videos of stinging and pedipalp response, then it will hold its ground and attack. If, however, it is a species with small pedipalps, as the Desert Hairy scorpion has, then it will flee from the direction of the grasping (or perceived grasping) as seen in the above video.
This suggests that the behavior I am inducing through microstimulation is indeed what is described in the Palka and Babu 1967 paper. This also suggests that with certain species I can induce a strike with claws or stinging, and with others induce movement in different directions, bringing the RoboScorpion even closer to its fellow cyborg arthropod, the RoboRoach.
To test this, last Friday I stimulated a Desert Hairy scorpions’ front legs, and observed a dramatic movement backwards, away from the perceived grasping. Unfortunately there was an issue with the video and the scorpion quickly pulled out the implanted wires (a recurring problem I hope to solve this week), so for now you’ll have to take the word of your Scorpion King, and with the next update I will have video of this behavior.
The more I work with the scorpions though, the more manageable they seem. Keeping them in my house was certainly daunting at first, but it is to the point where they’re just part of the family! Bit less of a hands on pet than a hamster, but undeniably way cooler.
Thanks for taking the time to read my update, and I hope you enjoyed it! I’m presenting my preliminary findings next week at MSU’s Mid-SURE, so wish me luck!