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Two new species of burrowing scorpions discovered

A team of researchers from Flinders University and various institutions in Western Australia have made intriguing discoveries in two newly identified species of the Urodacus genus of burrowing scorpions. These findings include a uniquely shaped tail tip and distinctive reproductive anatomy.

“By also looking at their internal genitalia, rather than only the external morphology, we discovered what we initially thought was one strange species – quite distinctive from other known Urodacus species – was actually two new unusual species,” said lead author Bruno Buzatto, an evolutionary biologist at Flinders University. 

Notable features

The two new species, Urodacus uncinus and Urodacus lunatus, exhibit notable differences in their tails. “One novel feature of these two new species… is that the males have noticeable enlargement in their sting or telson where the venom glands are located,” Buzatto explained. 

“[Moreover,] the tip of their ‘tails’ features a swollen vesicle and an aculeus that is more strongly curved than other known species of Urodacus.”

Urodacus scorpions

This research adds to the existing knowledge of the 21 known Urodacus scorpions, with an estimation that over 100 more species could still be discovered. U. uncinus derives its name from the hooked shape of its sting, and U. lunatus is named after a moon-shaped structure in its hemispermatophore.

“It’s important to study and understand the biodiversity of these burrowing scorpions and list species of conservation significance because a lot haven’t been discovered or properly described yet,” Buzzato said.

Hemispermatophore morphology

“What we did discover is that these two species are quite distinctive in their hemispermatophores, which are structures that occupy the full length of their abdomen and fuse together to produce the spermatophore,” said senior author Erich Volschenk, highlighting the lack of comprehensive knowledge about these species’ behavior, ecology, and physiology.

“This is the first time in Urodacus research that we have used hemispermatophore morphology to diagnose two different species, however, we can still only speculate about how these structures work during mating. After mating, the male scorpions will regrow hemispermatophores and can mate again within two weeks.”  

Potential threats 

The study identified threats from the pet trade and mining industry to burrowing scorpions, which are adapted to arid ecosystems. 

For instance, three of the known Urodacus species are currently featured in the top ten most popular invertebrate species in online pet trade, an aspect calling for more research on the impact of such activities on biodiversity and biosecurity.

Specific habitat 

Finally, Buzatto discusses the specific habitat of these new species: “So far, we only know these two new species have a narrow range in the Pilbara, restricted to creeks and drainage lines.” 

Dr. Volschenk added that while some Urodacus species can live up to 20 years in the wild, in captivity, their lifespan is much shorter, while their venom is less harmful to humans than that of other Australian scorpions.

The study is published in the Australian Journal of Zoology.

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