On a warm, moonless spring evening, a mysterious male Scorpio set out for an evening stroll across the floor of one of California’s most desolate playas in search of food, or maybe even love.
But as it scurried across the salty clay soil of Soda Lake in San Luis Obispo County, the arachnid encountered some rare visitors: two Bay Area high schoolers brandishing UV flashlights. As its beams flashed across the predator’s armored flesh, the creature glowed an eerie neon blue.
And just like that, one of California’s most elusive scorpions finally ended its epic game of hide-and-seek.
Scorpio-loving college students Prakrit Jain, 18, of Los Altos, and Harper Forbes, 19, of neighboring Sunnyvale, were drawn to the rugged Carrizo plain a photo of an unnamed and unique looking scorpion posted on the iNaturalist website.
“As soon as we turned on our flashlights and actually saw it, we knew right away that this was an undescribed species,” Jain said of the May 2021 discovery. “It really looked very different from any other we had seen before. ”
In particular, it was larger than other scorpions of its kind, and its body and tail were a darker shade.
They picked up the scorpion and several others in vials, jumped into Jain’s mother’s Honda Pilot, and headed back to camp over the bumpy dirt road.
With the help of Lauren Esposito, an arachnologist at the California Academy of Sciences, they soon determined that this previously unknown species had probably existed on the rugged rim of the San Andreas Fault for tens of thousands of years. You baptized it Paruroctonus sodaa literal reference to the lake it calls home.
But the pair wasn’t quite done discovering new species just yet.
A few months later, the students migrated to the Mojave Desert in Kern County, where they found another hidden scorpion species living on a small patch of land on the edge of a similar playa. They named this species Paruroctonus conclususa reference to the Latin word for restricted, closed, or bounded, describing its small, fragile habitat.
Their results were recently published in ZooKeys magazinewhere the authors argued that the Mojave Desert species should be considered endangered due to its limited range.
Today, Jain and Forbes are freshmen at UC Berkeley and the University of Arizona, respectively. Despite their busy schedules, they said they were concerned about the survival of their discoveries.
Both P.Soda and P. conclusus They rely on the soft, alkaline-rich clay soil found near the edge of playas to burrow in, and their survival depends on these playa conditions. But as global warming worsens and worsens California’s historic drought, conditions threaten to strip the soil of valuable moisture and endanger the scorpions.
Development is also a threat.
Even though P.Soda House is part of Carrizo Plain National Monument and is protected from development, P. conclusus’ The home sits on a small area of the Bureau of Land Management property that is open for mining. It is also close to two renewable energy projects.
An article by Jain, Forbes and Esposito highlights two solar farms near Lake Koehn: the Beacon solar project, which is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy, and Springbok Solar Farm, which contracts with the DWP and also supplies electricity to the city grid. A few miles south is the new one Eland solar project, which upon completion sometime in 2023 will also feed its electricity into the city’s power grid. Nearby are small farms and towns, which the study predicts will see population growth over the next two decades.
“These factors seriously threaten the habitat Paruroctonus conclusus …not only through direct habitat changes, but also through indirect downstream effects such as the production of waste products, the use of groundwater and possible changes in the hydrology of the region,” the trio wrote in their study.
There are precedents for development on California’s beaches, Esposito added, pointing to Lake Harper, another Mojave-region beach about 70 miles south of Koehn Lake, where developers built one of the world’s largest solar power plants in the 1980s and another power plant built in 2014.
“We demand them [Bureau of Land Management] think about creating a nature reserve P Diploma … and work to reduce external threats to its habitat,” the study said.
A spokesman for DWP said their projects meet all federal and state environmental permitting and review requirements, including the health of species protected by law. According to the DWP, there are currently no pending or proposed projects near Koehn Lake.
8minute Solar Energy, which owns the Springbok farm and is developing the Eland project, said it is working closely with statewide agencies and environmental groups to ensure its projects have “minimal impact on wildlife”. They said they disagree with the “conclusions of the study because 8minute’s solar projects are not in suitable habitats for the species, as defined in the study itself.”
Though most Californians may care little about scorpion survival, ecologists say the decline of any species points to a larger, more far-reaching imbalance within an ecosystem. Such is the case with deserts, said Cameron Barrows, an ecologist and retired professor at UC Riverside who still conducts research on the Mojave Desert from the school’s Palm Desert Center.
“You talk about deserts as an adjective when you’re referring to food deserts or culture deserts, because there’s not much food or little culture, and so deserts have developed this aura in our human culture that there’s very little biodiversity here,” Barrows said . “Certainly the opposite is the case.”
After tropical forests, he said, deserts are the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet in terms of animals and plants.
“Humans depend on biodiversity, and if we reduce biodiversity, we reduce our chances of surviving on this planet,” Barrows said. “And scorpions, along with other wildlife, are indicators of the extreme biodiversity of the desert.”
However, successful conservation efforts that focus on scorpions remain rare.
The only scorpion species to make the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species is a small number of species from Africa harvested primarily for the pet trade.
“So in terms of protecting scorpions as a result of habitat destruction or potential destruction, there is no historical precedent for protecting scorpion species anywhere in the world,” Esposito said.
Meanwhile, conservation for Jain and Forbes, both studying biology, comes in the form of continuing their nightly expeditions in search of new scorpion species.
However, the work is not without risk. Forbes has been stung over 50 times, and Jain more. With no deadly scorpion species known in California, most stings are forgetful. Although Jain carries an adrenaline pen just in case.
The two usually have control over the arachnids, either shoving them into vials or pinching the last segment of their tails, which Forbes says renders them defenseless.
However, on a trip deep into the Mojave Desert, Forbes recalled a sting from a hairy desert scorpion that caused him to lose function in his arms and legs. He felt numbness and extreme tingling. His abdominal muscles began to contract.
Forbes and his mother eventually made their way out of the desert and found a hotel where he could sleep off the symptoms. The next day he still felt some after-effects. Even after consulting experts, he was never sure if the normally harmless sting caused the reaction.
When Forbes and his mother got home, there were fewer copies than he had hoped. After the sting, he had decided to leave this particular scorpion on the desert floor.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-04/2-bay-area-students-discover-2-new-scorpion-species 2 Bay Area students discover 2 new scorpion species