The Deathstalker Scorpion:
One of the Most Dangerous Scorpions for Humans

Text by Lancelot Tucker

Scorpion deathstalker from the Negev desert

Scorpion deathstalker from the Negev desert Leiurus quinquestriatus (95330077 ©Kingofswords Dreamstime.com)

Many dangerous species live in deserts. One of the most deadly to humans is the deathstalker scorpion. Deathstalker scorpions are well adapted to desert life, unlike many people traveling to the desert – especially those visitors unfamiliar with this specialized habitat.

The deathstalker scorpion, Leiurus quinquestriatus, is primarily found in North Africa and the Middle East, but also occurs in Central Asia, India and Kazakhstan.

Members of the Buthidae family, they go by a number of names, including Palestine yellow scorpion, Naqab desert scorpion, and Omdurman scorpion. Their scientific name, Leiurus quinquestriatus, means “five-striped smooth-tail”. They are yellow and grow to around one to three inches in length; the females are the larger gender. These scorpions are nocturnal, and are burrowing creatures, sometimes moving into holes vacated by other beings. They thrive in harsh climates with temperatures around 110°F (43.5°C) and very low precipitation. Deathstalker scorpions hunt by lying in wait, then striking their prey very quickly.

Their primary diet consists of insects such as beetles, flies, termites and crickets as well as other arachnids. Predators include owls and bats, as well as other deathstalker scorpions and centipedes. Bats appear to have a resistance to their venom.

Males and females perform a mating dance while the female decides whether to accept the advances of the male or not. This can only occur after the female has molted multiple times. They produce an average of 62 babies after successful mating. Scorpions in general have been documented to live between 4 and 25 years, though no one knows the average life span of the deathstalker in the wild.

The deathstalker (Leiurus quinquestriatus) is a species of scorpion also known as Palestine yellow scorpion, the Israeli yellow scorpion, Omdurman scorpion, Naqab desert scorpion. Seen under black light here. (79231971 ©Alberto Chiarle – Dreamstime.com)

Venom

The deathstalker’s sting is known to be extremely painful, and once the venom penetrates human skin, it can nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, as well as visible swelling at the sting site. More vulnerable victims, children and the elderly, may also experience convulsions and fluid retention in the lungs.  For such persons, death can come by means of heart and respiratory collapse.

The four main toxins that a deathstalker scorpion sting releases in its victim are:

  • Scyllatoxin, named after the Greek mythology sea monster Scylla, works by blocking small-conductance Ca2+-activated K+
  • Chlorotoxin consists of a 36-amino acid peptide, which causes the blockage of small conductance found in chloride channels. It is the subject of research in fighting tumors, particularly of the brain.
  • Charybdotoxin is known to block calcium-activated potassium channels and can trigger hyper-excitability of the nerves. It consists of a 37 amino acid neurotoxin that is found in the sting of the death stalker. It too is named after a sea monster from Greek mythology, Charybdis.
  • Agitoxins – There are three types of agitoxins in the venom, all of which carry strong 38 amino acid substances.

How to treat a person who is stung by a deathstalker

  1. Envenomation by a deathstalker is a medical emergency. Call the emergency number in the country you are in immediately.
  2. In the United States, there is no FDA approved antivenom for a deathstalker sting. In geographic areas where the deathstalker is prevalent it is obtainable but large doses of antivenom are necessary to combat the venom’s effects.
  3. For faster treatment to the patient, the name of the scorpion or its description should be given to the attending physician if possible so they will know how best to treat the patient.
  4. Clean the sting area. Carefully wash and clean the area with soap and water.
  5. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a washcloth or other covering for 10 minutes and repeat as necessary.
  6. Apply CPR if necessary.

Scorpion venom for medicinal purposes

Scientists are making breakthroughs in studies researching the use of scorpion venom to treat certain medical conditions. Chlorotoxin may be of use in targeting tumors for drug delivery. A report in the Science Daily written by the American Chemical Society says that chlorotoxin found in the deathstalker scorpion’s venom may be used to help counteract the spread of brain cancer. Other elements of the venom may have use in controlling insulin levels in diabetics.

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About the Author:  Lancelot Tucker is a freelance writer who writes on all things. He loves traveling, browsing the internet in his free time and meeting with old friends.