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What are scorpions?

Why study scorpions?
Life History
Dwindling Expertise


Urgency for the study of any taxonomic group can be argued on the basis of prevailing ignorance about the world’s biota. However, scorpions warrant more attention than they receive. As K-selected, equilibrium species, and comprising a major group of predatory arthropods in arid ecosystems, scorpions are valuable bio-indicators. Their disappearance signals habitat degradation and they represent charismatic ‘flagship’ species for programs aimed at conserving terrestrial invertebrates. Small litter sizes, long generation times and low survivorship among sexually immature females contribute to a low rate of population increase for most scorpions (Polis & Farley 1979; Polis 1990). Many scorpion species are also extremely habitat specific and range-restricted, exacerbating their risk of extinction due to human activities (Prendini 2001). Increasingly threatened by habitat destruction and harvesting for the souvenir and exotic pet trades (Prendini et al. 2003), few scorpions receive formal protection and many may disappear before being described. For example, ca. 105 000 live Pandinus imperator are exported annually from three West African countries to pet shops in Europe, the USA and Japan (Sissom & Hendrixson 2005), indicating the magnitude of trade in this particular species, which is now CITES-listed (IUCN 1994; Lourenço & Cloudsley-Thompson 1996). At least 50 other scorpion species, originating from various African, Asian, and American countries, are offered for sale on the exotic pet market; the most sought after fetch up to $300 each. Few scorpions receive formal protection and many may disappear before being described. The threats faced by many scorpion species renders the task of inventorying their diversity and distribution a priority if steps towards their conservation are to be implemented.       

Literature Cited:

IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). 1994. Analyses of proposals to amend the CITES appendices. Inclusion of Emperor Scorpions Pandinus dictator, P. gambiensis and P. imperator in appendix II. Ghana. IUCN Document 9. 47. 63–65: 186–188.

Lourenço, W.R. & Cloudsley-Thompson, J.L. 1996. Recognition and distribution of the scorpions of the genus Pandinus Thorell, 1876 accorded protection by the Washington convention. Biogeographica 72: 133–143.

Polis, G.A. 1990. Ecology. In: Polis, G.A. (Ed.) The Biology of Scorpions. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 247–293.

Polis, G.A. & Farley, R.D. 1979. Characteristics and environmental determinants of natality, growth and maturity in a natural population of the desert scorpion, Paruroctonus mesaensis (Scorpionida: Vaejovidae). Journal of Zoology, London 187: 517–542.

Prendini, L. 2001. Two new species of Hadogenes (Scorpiones, Ischnuridae) from South Africa, with a redescription of Hadogenes bicolor and a discussion on the phylogenetic position of Hadogenes. Journal of Arachnology 29: 146–172.

Prendini, L., Crowe, T.M. & Wheeler, W.C. 2003. Systematics and biogeography of the family Scorpionidae Latreille, with a discussion of phylogenetic methods. Invertebrate Systematics 17: 185–259.

Sissom, W.D. & Hendrixson, B.E. 2005. Scorpion biodiversity and patterns of endemism in northern Mexico. In: Cartron, J.-L.E. & Ceballos, G. (Eds.) Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Conservation in northern Mexico. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 122–137.


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