Scorpions Use Acid and Protons to Make Their Stings More Painful

Mesobuthus martensii, also known as the Chinese golden scorpion.
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."

Treat Your Very Good Dog to An Adorable Hawaiian Shirt This Summer

twygg, iStock/Getty Images Plus
twygg, iStock/Getty Images Plus

This summer, treat your very good doggo to a very stylish Hawaiian polo shirt—because dogs are people, too.

The shirt, made by Expawlorer and available through Amazon, features a vibrant Hawaiian island scene that will surely highlight the sparkle of adventure in your dog’s eyes and remind you that they deserve an extra belly rub for staying on top of seasonal trends.

It’s made from a natural cotton that will help keep your dog cool beneath the heat of the blistering summer sun, and the Velcro fastener on the front of the shirt will ensure a stress-free dressing experience (for both of you).

Dog wearing a Hawaiian shirt on the beach
Expawlorer, Amazon

Does your dog have an unparalleled penchant for making messes? Fret not: The shirt is machine washable and can be thrown in the dryer, too.

Prices start at $12, and you can purchase it in sizes small, medium, large, and extra large. According to the product description, it fits small and medium-sized dogs best; one reviewer notes that the extra large is snug on their 60-pound dog. If the petite sizing prompts you to wonder, “Would this fit my cat?,” the answer is yes. The small size is designed for pets with a 10-inch neck circumference, which would work for the average cat, though it may be a bit loose on smaller kitties. (“Would my cat let me put this on them?” is an entirely different question that only your cat can answer.)

The Hawaiian shirt is much more than a bold and festive fashion statement—its rich history dates back to the 1920s, and the look has been embraced by a variety of human celebrities, including Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

However, if the “life of the party” connotation of the Hawaiian shirt doesn’t quite fit the personality of your pet, here are some other options.

[h/t Her]

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Female Lab Rats Are the Victims of Gender Bias, Too

Alexthq // Getty Images
Alexthq // Getty Images

Sexism in the workplace isn’t limited to humans. Because neuroscientists presumed that hormonal fluctuations in female lab rats would affect their test results, they have mainly stuck to studying male lab rats. But they may not be getting the whole story, reports Bethany Brookshire at Science News.

Female lab rats do indeed have hormonal surges that affect their behavior—but so do males. Previous research has shown that females consume more cocaine when in heat (in other words, with higher estrogen levels) than at other times. But males with low or high testosterone performed poorly on memory tests.

It’s not just the hormones and their effects that differ between the sexes—it’s also the timeframe for hormonal surges. Behavioral neuroendocrinologist Irving Zucker, who detailed these differences in a 2017 study [PDF] in Biology of Sex Differences, tells Science News that females’ hormones vary more over a few days, while males’ vary more over the course of a single day.

There are also differences between the sexes that have nothing to do with hormones at all. In a 2015 study in eLife, Rebecca Shansky, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University, showed female and male rats a tone or light followed by a (harmless) shock to the feet. While all of the rats first learned to freeze after the signal, fearing the shock, some of the females responded to subsequent signals by racing around the cage—for no obvious hormonal reason. Shansky concluded that female rats may learn to process fear differently than males, suggesting that equality of the sexes among lab rats (at least in terms of studying them) can lead to more insightful results.

Plus, if male and female rats behave differently in a given situation, it’s possible that male and female humans would, too. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, human females have also frequently been excluded from clinical trials, including several important long-running studies on aging and other issues.)

And if you’re starting to feel like rats deserve more credit than you’ve previously given them, check out these other impressive rat facts.

[h/t Science News]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER