An extreme fascination with Arizona and its desert led me to my next blog topic. When visiting Phoenix, Arizona for last year's spring break, one of the first things I did was browse through a book nestled upon the coffee table that contained cute little pictures and descriptions of all the neat wildlife that exists in the hot desert.
Within this book contained many interesting animals that would easily amuse anyone not accustomed to indigenous desert wildlife (unless you visit the local zoo of course for us Ohioans). I was informed numerous times about the local scorpions that lurk in the shadows of the desert floor to the point where I kept my shoes on more often than I probably should have and slept with blankets completely bundled around my head. So this book allowed me to take a closer look at these creepy-crawly-things without getting too close for my liking. Despite my fear I had for these creatures, thanks to the local residents who instilled it upon me, I have to admit now that I was a little disappointed not to see one for myself during the entire week stay. I'm even more disappointed because Arizona has the most venomous scorpion in North America, the Arizona Bark Scorpion.
The Arizona Bark Scorpion is among ~2,000 species of scorpions and one of the few species that are dangerous to humans. These creatures, I mean scorpions, use their venom to kill or paralyze their prey (typically crickets and roaches) before eating them. They do this by injecting venom that is stored in a glandular sac called the telson just below their stinger also known as the aculeus. The venom that the scorpion injects into its prey is a mixture of neurotoxin and enzyme inhibitors which contain a large quantity of channel blockers. The venom binds to sodium channels and inhibits any activation that may occur which, in turn, blocks overall neuronal transmission causing its immobilizing symptoms. Scorpion toxin is also used in some insecticides and vaccines.
Another interesting fact I quickly discovered (while fearing that during an innocent night walk to the kitchen I might accidentally get stung by one of these beasts and have to be rushed away to the hospital (which probably wouldn't happen-thank goodness)), was the fact that these guys glow in the dark. Well kind of. They do, however, contain a fluorescent compound that allows them to glow under ultraviolet light. Most people don't pack a blacklight in their luggage (though I'm sure if I did the airport security would have confiscated that bad boy anyway), but luckily I found one for my own amusement in finding a scorpion. The compound responsible for the scorpion's glowing qualities is known as Beta-Carboline. This compound, that generates a fluorescent glow under UV, is part of the alkaloids found within many plants and animals and plays a vital role in monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). (It was also the compound that would enable me to see any potential scorpions crouched in any crack or corner so I could inevitably scream and have someone remove it appropriately).
It turns out that scorpions are way cooler than what I previously thought. A Tel Aviv University researcher claims that scorpion venom may actually be used as a substitution for addictive opiate painkillers such as morphine. It is believed that the toxic venom could lead the way to the production of a powerful analgesic drug. Potentially the drug will be used against severe burns and cuts by mimicking and modifying the necessary elements of scorpion venom. This will allow for a more potent and target-specific (to certain sodium channels) while at the same time, reducing any serious side effects shown from pure scorpion venom or addictive opiate painkillers.
So this spring when I head out West, you can bet I just might be looking for scorpions that could quite possibly "Rock You Like a Hurricane". Okay Okay, who's kidding who, I probably won't be snooping for scorpions. I'll just look at their pictures in that book on the coffee table, never quote that song title again, and investigate something else like the Sonoran desert whiptail.