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High Schoolers Spot 2 New Scorpion Species on Nature App

Yay, more scorpions!

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
A brown scorpion on brown sand with its back covered in tiny white scorpion babies.
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A brown scorpion on brown sand with its back covered in tiny white scorpion babies.

Newly described scorpion species Paruroctonus soda caries babies on its back.

Gayle Laird/California Academy of Sciences

Scorpions have a scary reputation, thanks to their alien looks, pincers and stingers. But scorpions are also fascinating critters, as researchers Harper Forbes and Prakrit Jain know. The pair are the lead authors of a paper in ZooKeys describing two previously unknown scorpion species found in California. Also, they were in high school when they made the discoveries.

Forbes and Jain, who've since graduated high school, collaborated with arachnologist Lauren Esposito of the California Academy of Sciences on the species descriptions. "Harper and Prakrit went through all the steps to formally describe a species, sampling the populations and comparing them with existing specimens in our collection," said Esposito in a statement on Monday.

Three researchers crouch together in a wooded area.
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Three researchers crouch together in a wooded area.

Harper Forbes (left), Prakrit Jain (right), and Academy Curator of Arachnology Lauren Esposito (center) out on a search for scorpions.

Gayle Laird/California Academy of Sciences

The species -- Paruroctonus soda and Paruroctonus conclusus -- are called playa scorpions as a reference to their habitat in dry lake beds. The students first spotted them on the iNaturalist app, which people use to upload pictures of fauna and flora to share with a wide community of enthusiasts and scientists. 

Starting in 2019, Forbes and Jain investigated an unknown species of scorpion found in Koehn Lake in the Mojave Desert. It had gone unidentified on the app for six years. "We weren't entirely sure what we were looking at," Jain said. "Over the next couple years, we studied scorpions in the genus Paruroctonus and learned they frequently evolve to live in alkali playas like Koehn Lake." 

Two juvenile scorpions against a white background.
Enlarge Image
Two juvenile scorpions against a white background.

Two juvenile specimens of P. conclusus.

Prakrit Jains/Harper Forbes/Lauren Esposito/ZooKeys

The second unknown scorpion popped up on iNaturalist in 2021 after being seen in a spot called Soda Lake in San Luis Obispo County. The students went to work seeking out specimens for both species, which live in extremely small areas. 

The scorpions' tiny range is a concern. P. soda lives in protected lands within Carrizo Plain National Monument, but P. conclusus is in a more vulnerable position. "The entire species could be wiped out with the construction of a single solar farm, mine, or housing development," said Forbes.

The study shows there's still much to be learned about the wildlife of California. The scorpion-finders seem to have also found their passion. They're working with Esposito on a book about scorpions, and both are going on to study biology at different universities.