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“Very Unusual”: a New Species of Scorpion Was Found in California Among Trash

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In 2020, Brian Hinds was taken aback when he went land exploration in a little, remote area of Fresno County and saw a yellow scorpion hiding among heaps of loose rubbish.

Over the past ten years, the amateur herpetologist has identified thousands of species on iNaturalist, seeing everything from desert horned lizards to Mojave rattlesnakes. However, he and other users argued over what species the scorpion, with its broad claws and distinctive yellow bands, might belong to after he uploaded a picture of it on the app. There was no logical identification in place. Up until this point, the enigma had persisted among citizen scientists for years.

In the dry San Joaquin Desert, Hinds found a whole new species, which they named Paruroctonus tulare, or P. tulare, according to a recent report by a group of local biodiversity experts. Researchers claim that the scorpion is already endangered since it lives in a harsh, rural area of Central California that has been extensively developed for farming and petroleum production (albeit it hasn’t yet been granted the official status it needs to be protected).

The region was rich in biological diversity prior to European colonists seizing control of the basin; wildflowers, saltbush, and marshy wetlands were all in full bloom at one point. However, by the middle of the 1800s, people were farming the large alkali sink, destroying its rich ecosystems and forests in the process. A century later, Tulare Lake completely vanished as a result of excessive water being taken out for farming. Researchers estimate that today, less than 5% of San Joaquin’s natural land is still undeveloped.

However, the study notes that this enigmatic new species “continues to persist” despite the harm caused by humans.

Prakrit Jain, a UC Berkeley student and intern at the California Academy of Sciences, messaged Hinds after he posted pictures of the scorpion on iNaturalist, speculating that he might have discovered a new species. (Jain has co-discovered several additional species of scorpions in California.) Jain, who co-wrote the article, said it was unlike anything he had ever seen. After Hinds gave him the location of the scorpion, Jain and other researchers went back to the desolate area where it had first been seen.

In search of the elusive scorpion, the study’s authors traversed vast stretches of agricultural area in Central California over the course of the following two years. With ultraviolet lights in hand, they set out into the pitch-black desert to illuminate the poisonous bug. When Jain eventually turned over a loose slab of concrete and saw the translucent, carnivorous beetles, he nearly passed out.

He sent an email to SFGATE saying, “I was quite excited to collect them as they were some of the first new species I had found and they were in a very unusual location.” Researchers came to the conclusion that it was a previously undiscovered species by examining the habitat, comparing the size of the scorpions’ chelae, or claws, and tail form with those of other scorpions, he stated.

Lauren Esposito, the curator of arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences, noted right away how peculiar the surroundings of these new scorpions were when she began researching them. Ultimately, she told SFGATE, they were found on “a little remnant along a road of seminative habitat, mostly filled with trash” when they were first found. She continued, “If the scorpions hadn’t been found, it was probably just a matter of time until their dens were bulldozed over.” It’s possible that the species vanished before it was officially named.

In addition, the scorpion already faces numerous additional existential risks.

According to Jain, agricultural development is destroying the area’s natural ecosystem, and he fears that excessive livestock grazing, invasive plant species like Russian thistle, and severe drought may further diminish the population of endangered animals. The report states that although it’s hard to know, the authors hypothesize that these scorpions are exploiting the debris as a haven from frequent flooding and habitat destruction.

Esposito informed SFGATE that 30 P. tulare specimens are being studied at Cal Academy at the moment. Researchers want to learn more about these nocturnal insects and improve our ability to save them from extinction by removing the muscle tissue from scorpions and studying their anatomy. They have even evaluated their eligibility for listing on the Endangered Species List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature throughout this procedure.

She told SFGATE that although these scorpions face environmental difficulties, her optimism for the future stems from Jain and his team’s fieldwork.

“I always have hope,” she uttered. “This is a great example, in my opinion, of compiling enough information about one thing to potentially preserve habitat for many, many other things,”

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