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Mesobuthus martensii, also known as the Chinese golden scorpion.
Dr. Shilong Yang

Scorpions Use Acid and Protons to Make Their Stings More Painful

Original image
Mesobuthus martensii, also known as the Chinese golden scorpion.
Dr. Shilong Yang

Scorpions are, like the rest of us, just trying to get by. Although, admittedly, the rest of us don't make highly sophisticated death-juice in our behinds. According to a new study, one species even uses acid to make its sting more painful. Scientists reported their findings in the journal Science Advances.

Venom is a little word that covers scores of different chemicals with different effects, each evolved to combat a certain type of predator or problem. Some are anticoagulants, which can cause death by blood loss. Some are neurotoxic, causing paralysis. Others cause excruciating pain—a fine deterrent for predators too large to be killed outright.

Scorpions in the Buthidae family make more than 100 different toxins, most of which we still don't understand. One such mysterious substance is a peptide called BmP01. The scientists who discovered this compound quickly figured out that it works by activating a pain pathway in the brain called TRPV1. It's the same one capsaicin uses to deliver a jolt of spice.

What they couldn't figure out was how BmP01 was so potent. Its effects on the brain were far more powerful than they should have been, given the teeny-tiny amount of the toxin a scorpion dispenses.

Something was beefing up BmP01's pain-producing powers.

Scorpion and rat face off
Dr. Shilong Yang

To find out what it was, scientists combed through the chemistry of the remaining components of Buthidae venom. One quality stood out: The venom was unusually acidic.

The researchers realized that the acid allows the venom to shed protons. Under normal circumstances, a high dose of protons can penetrate a pain pathway's defenses. Here, BmP01 and protons act together to activate the pain receptor, creating a stronger response—and more intense pain—than either could have done alone.

This "one-two punch approach" is a brilliant adaptation, the researchers say.

"Animal toxins delivered in this acidic package must have undergone optimization through evolution to better perform their biological functions," they write. "We suggest that, in addition to using a cocktail of toxins, bimodal activation may represent another general survival strategy used by venomous animals."

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Mesobuthus martensii, also known as the Chinese golden scorpion.
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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Mesobuthus martensii, also known as the Chinese golden scorpion.
RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages
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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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