Scorpion Anti-Venom in Costa Rica

Did you know that scorpions can be really harmful if they ever have the chance to sting you?

Scorpions are small arthropods of the order Scorpiones within the class Arachnida. They have four (4) pairs of legs and are easily recognized by one (1) pair of grasping pincers (claws), complemented by a segmented tail, often carried in a characteristic forward curve over the back, ending with a venomous stinger.

What are their feeding habits?

In a general sense, Scorpions are opportunistic predators of small insects, although the larger kinds have been known to kill small lizards and mice. Their large pincers are studded with highly sensitive tactile hairs, and the moment an insect touches these, they use them to effectively catch the prey. Depending on the toxicity level of their venom and the size of their claws, they will either crush the prey or inject it with this neurotoxic substance. This venom will kill or paralyze the prey so the scorpion can eat it.

They can also consume huge amounts of food at once. They have a very efficient food storage organ and a very low metabolic rate combined with a relatively inactive lifestyle. This characteristic enables scorpions to survive long periods when deprived of food. And some of them are even able to survive six (6) to twelve (12) months of starvation.

How is their reproduction?

With regard to their reproductive habits, they possess both a complex courtship and a mating ritual. This ritual starts with the male and female locating and identifying each other, by using a mixture of pheromones and vibrational communication. Although most scorpions reproduce sexually -most species have male and female individuals, some species reproduce through parthenogenesis, a process in which unfertilized eggs develop into living embryos.

The shape of their bodies has not changed in more than 420 million years!

Modern scorpions are certainly not the same animals that lived back in the Silurian period, more than four hundred twenty (420) million years ago. But when you look at scorpions is just like staring at an “extremely old group of animals whose basic body plan has remained unchanged for four hundred twenty-five (425) million years. Few other animals offer such a glimpse of early life on Earth”, says Matthew Shaw, an expert biologist from the Queensland Museum in Brisbane, Australia.

What does it happen when scorpions sting humans?

Scorpions are also very likely to cause scorpionism, that is when they eventually sting human beings. This incidence may become a serious health problem if not treated properly. That is why the presence of scorpions in many countries -there are about two thousand (2,000) species all around the world, although a few ones might really be considered dangerous for people- is often considered a red alert issue for the health authorities of those countries.

In this respect, Costa Rican authorities report fourteen (14) species within seven (7) genera and four (4) families with the genera Centruroides and Tityus presenting medical importance due to their envenomation features. Indeed, these two (2) genera represent an emerging potential problem to the public health system, either for Costa Rica or for some other Central American countries (Leveridge, 2000). That is why the Clodomiro Picado Institute (or ICP by its acronym in Spanish) holds a remarkable trajectory in terms of research to making snakebite anti-venom serum and, since 2005, scorpion sting anti-venoms.

But, how do the ICP researchers make these anti-venoms sera?

Well, after using a black-light flashlight therapy and an intensive seeking methodology during a seven-year (7) period, they started extracting scorpions’ venom by applying electro-stimulation. As a result, they found that the collected venom was characterized by total protein content in addition to median lethal doses.

In this sense, Centruroides bicolor (the scientific name for that specific scorpion species) showed higher amounts of venom yield, total protein content and more lethal dose, all of which were cor¬related with its body mass. And thanks to the careful techniques the researchers used to keep scorpions in captivity, they also allowed the animals to live several years after.

Quantitatively speaking, they manipulated a collection of two thousand forty-three (2,043) scorpions which were further classified into eleven (11) species. The specimens were collected from several localities of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean zones of Costa Rica.

How many species of scorpions are really dangerous to humans?

As interesting facts, a number of thirty (30) species of scorpions are potentially harmful to human beings, where nineteen (19) species belong to the family Buthidae, and the genera Centruroides and Tity¬us, found in America (Chippaux & Goyffon, 2008). The Centruroides genus is distributed from the North part of the American continent to Central America, and the Tityus genus is found from Central America through South America (Borges et al., 2012).

Where does the highest incidence of scorpion stings occur in Central America?

With regard to Central America, the highest annual incidence of scorpion stings occurs in Mexico, with an average of two thousand fifty (2,050) scorpion stings by every 100,000 inhabitants (Chip¬paux & Goyffon, 2008). However, other Central American countries, such as Costa Rica and Panama, have lower scorpion sting incidence.

And what did the study conducted at the ICP show?

In relation to the study conducted at the ICP, the scorpion collection kept along the nine-year (9) period showed to be efficient in terms of venom extraction processes, venom yield and relatively good survival of animals. However, some failings were found, leaving aside important information on the scorpions’ nutrition, behavior, growth, development, and appropriate environmental conditions.

What have the ICP researchers concluded?

To sum up, although there are countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, and Mexico currently working in the development of scorpion anti-venoms, the ICP researchers have concluded that a complete research on the factors causing deaths in scorpion collections in captivity is necessary. Additionally, one of the ICP main contributions is to find that the improve¬ment of maintenance conditions in laboratories and the breeding procedures of scorpions are key factors in order to produce the venom required for anti-venom elaboration.

Informative and entertaining, this film takes a look at scorpions and relatives in Costa Rica. Seeing a scorpion may cause you to cringe, but the scorpions of Costa Rica are rarely dangerous. Learn why some people like to have scorpions around the house. Take a look at the diversity, anatomy, and life of these arachnids.

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