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NMSU researchers work to prevent scorpion stings, provide awareness

Release Date: 18 Oct 2022
NMSU researchers work to prevent scorpion stings, provide awareness

Living in the desert Southwest brings encounters with many types of insects, animals and pests. Two researchers at New Mexico State University are taking a closer look at scorpions and investigating how to better control them while protecting the environment and increasing awareness of how dangerous scorpions can be.  
 
Alvaro Romero, associate professor of urban entomology, and John Agnew, graduate research assistant in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, said this research has a real-time practical applicability.  
 
“In the U.S., there are thousands of recorded stings each year from scorpions, most of which occur right in the distribution range of the country’s most dangerous scorpion,” Romero said. “In the years 2005 to 2015, there were 185,000 scorpion stings, 68% of which occurred in Arizona. This species occurs in the west of New Mexico, but sting reports are lacking.”  
 
Being in the Borderland area, the team has also looked at data coming from Mexico, which shows there are even more stings – however, many go unreported in rural communities.  
 
“Because the most dangerous scorpions in the United States and Mexico all fall under the same genus as the most dangerous one here, known as Centruroides, most control methods that work for the model species we work with here should be moderately applicable to the others as well, including those present in New Mexico,” Romero said.  
 
The current research on scorpions focuses on three major points: How can we better control scorpions by understanding their behavior; what benefits, besides being a natural predator of pests, do scorpions have when it comes to biomolecules that could be developed into potential insecticides or medicinal drugs; and using alternative control methods that do not completely rely on synthetic insecticides but use environmentally friendly pesticides such as repellents that can help prevent scorpions’ indoor invasion.  
 
Looking deeper at current practices to avert scorpion invasions, Romero said the researchers learned scorpions are very sensitive to repellents formulated from the constituents of coconut fatty acid – more so than other arthropod pests that are commonly tested here. “This sensitivity helps repel the scorpions even when the repellent residues have aged. This means that coconut fatty acid-based repellents could potentially protect premises from scorpion invasion for at least one week,” he said.  
 
Another interesting discovery was the specific avoidance mechanisms scorpions use in response to being exposed to traditional synthetic insecticides.  
 
“One of these is a behavior known as ‘stilting,’ in which a scorpion that has encountered an insecticide-treated surface will stand on the tip of each of its legs – all eight of them – and walk around, almost like it is tiptoeing or walking on stilts,” Romero explained. “This seems to be a behavior mechanism that can make an insecticide useless. Similarly, we have successfully tested paints that can be applied to walls around buildings to prevent scorpions’ climbing and access to indoor environments.”  
 
The team believes their research could potentially help the community make informed decisions on what to apply around their homes and personal belongings if they are plagued with scorpions, as well as consider alternative non-chemical methods for their management, such as paints.  
 
“We have seen, through trips to Arizona, that some neighborhoods have thousands of scorpions hiding in the cracks and crevices of their walls – just over some of which reside children’s playsets, pet housing, pools, and a variety of other things scorpions could also reside in and potentially sting someone from,” Romero said. “Repellents and other control techniques might keep that from happening, as scorpions, such as the Arizona bark scorpions present in the Southwest, are the most dangerous in the United States with the potential to cause death – but might be even more helpful in other countries such as Mexico.”  
 
Other goals of this research include increasing both public and academic knowledge and awareness of biology and behavior to best serve practical control at the home level and help future academics build onto the scorpion knowledge base.  
 
Romero said NMSU has contributed to increasing the body of scientific knowledge on scorpions, and provides funding and space in which to conduct research, making the university an excellent platform for doing outreach and informing the public about what they can do or watch out for when it comes to scorpions.  
 
“Being part of the university’s robust research system means being part of a collaborative team to better understand and provide ever increasing information to various knowledge bases while also having the opportunity to get that information out to the public and communities affected by scorpions,” he said.

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