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Scientists Prove Indiana Jones Right: Smaller Scorpions Are Deadlier

Scorpions. Why did it have to be scorpions?

androctonus-mauretanicus-in-morocco-dr-michel-dugon
An androctonus mauretanicus scorpion in Morocco.
Michel Dugon

"When it comes to scorpions, the bigger, the better," Indiana Jones tells his freshly stung son in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. "Small one bites you, don't keep it to yourself." Turns out Indy knew his stuff. 

A team of researchers at National University of Ireland, Galway put that idea to the test in a study that found smaller scorpions with smaller pincers have more potent venom than their bigger kin. According to the university, there are over a million cases of scorpion stings each year, and thousands of deaths.

The paper published in the journal Toxins in March looked at 36 species of scorpions. "It shows the smallest scorpions in their analysis, like the Brazilian yellow scorpion, were over 100 times more potent than the largest species they studied, such as the rock scorpion," NUI Galway said in a statement on Thursday. 

The most potent scorpions had smaller bodies, but also smaller pincers. "While species such as large-clawed scorpion might be small to medium in size, they mainly rely on their large pincers instead of their relatively weak venom," said lead study author Alannah Forde, an NUI Galway graduate student studying zoology. By comparison, a small-bodied, small-pincer species like the deathstalker scorpion can be very dangerous to humans, particularly children or those who are allergic.

Understanding the connection between scorpion size and venom potency can help with medical treatments. Said senior author and venom specialist Michael Dugon, "Identifying the species responsible is essential to administer the correct treatment, and a simple rule such as 'bigger is better' is a first small step toward saving lives."