Unveiling the Mysteries of Scorpion Fluorescence: Insights from Ultraviolet Excitation


A recent study used fluorescence spectroscopy to learn more about scorpions and their exoskeleton.

Article Highlights

  • Researchers at East China Normal University examined scorpion fluorescence across different UV bands, discovering complex fluorescence dynamics within various body segments of adult scorpions.
  • The study found consistent fluorescence spectra in second-, third-, and fifth-instar scorpions, peaking at 475 nm.
  • Fluorescence recovery dynamics varied by exoskeleton segment and UV excitation range, with typical spectra of molted chelae and telson recovering in about 6 hours under UVA light but taking up to 72 hours under UVB and UVC light.
  • The findings offer insights into the biological significance of scorpion fluorescence.

Although scorpion fluorescence under ultraviolet (UV) light is well known, examining this phenomenon under the various UV bands has not been done (1). UV excitation across different UV bands has not been done, according to a recent study published in Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy. However, the study is possible using a technique termed systematic fluorescence characterization (1).

Scorpions are predators in the arachnid family, and boast a remarkable defense system anchored by their exoskeleton over their long, segmented body (2). Crafted from chitin, a tough and resilient substance, the exoskeleton envelops their segmented bodies, providing both protection and structural support. This armor-like casing not only shields them from environmental hazards but also plays a pivotal role in regulating water loss, crucial for their survival in arid habitats (2). As scorpions grow, they undergo molting, shedding their old exoskeleton to accommodate their expanding bodies. This process of ecdysis ensures their continual growth and adaptation to changing environments.

Because scorpion exoskeletons offer unique benefits to this creature, studying the arachnid’s biological processes is of interest to researchers. Recently, researchers at East China Normal University, led by Kun Huang and Yingliang Wu, have explored the fluorescence properties of scorpions under ultraviolet (UV) excitation (1). Their findings challenge previous understanding of scorpion fluorescence and offer insights into the biological significance of this phenomenon.

Granulated thick-tailed scorpion (Parabuthus granulatus), Kalahari desert, South Africa. | Image Credit: © EcoView - stock.adobe.com

Granulated thick-tailed scorpion (Parabuthus granulatus), Kalahari desert, South Africa. | Image Credit: © EcoView - stock.adobe.com

Examining the scorpion’s exuviae, which is the layer of the exoskeleton that is routinely shed, the researchers found that second-, third-, and fifth-instar scorpions exhibited indistinguishable fluorescence spectra regardless of the UV range (1). These spectra peaked at a wavelength of 475 nm, suggesting consistency in fluorescence properties across developmental stages.

However, upon closer examination of various body segments of adult scorpions, including the chelae, mesosoma, metasoma, and telson, the researchers uncovered heterogeneity in fluorescence spectra (1). Notably, they identified a previously unreported fluorescence spectrum with a peak wavelength of 320 nm under UV excitation, indicating complex fluorescence dynamics within the scorpion exoskeleton (1).

The researchers also uncovered more insights into fluorescence recovery dynamics. They accomplished this through conducting a further investigation into the molting process of third-instar scorpions (1). The researchers noted in their study that the speed of fluorescence recovery varied depending on the segment of the exoskeleton and the UV range of the excitation light (1). For instance, typical fluorescence spectra of molted chelae and telson recovered within approximately 6 h under UVA light, whereas it took approximately 72 h for recovery under UVB and UVC light (1).

The study also employed tissue section analysis to confirm fluorescence heterogeneity-dependent recovery patterns in molting scorpions (1). These findings not only unveiled novel features of scorpion fluorescence, but they also provided potential clues regarding its biological function (1).

Scorpion fluorescence is a fascinating phenomenon where scorpions emit visible light under ultraviolet (UV) illumination. This fluorescence occurs due to certain compounds present in the exoskeleton or cuticle of scorpions, notably beta-carboline alkaloids such as beta-carboline and 4-methyl-7-hydroxycoumarin (3). These compounds absorb UV light and re-emit it as visible fluorescence, typically green or blue-green in color. The excitation wavelength, which is the wavelength of light that triggers fluorescence, generally falls within the UV range, typically around 350 to 400 nanometers. The emission wavelength, representing the wavelength of light emitted during fluorescence, typically ranges from 450 to 500 nanometers, falling within the blue-green visible spectrum. This unique feature has sparked interest in understanding its biochemical significance. While the exact function of scorpion fluorescence remains debated, it's hypothesized to play a role in predator avoidance, prey attraction, or possibly in regulating scorpion metabolism or cuticle properties. Further research into the biochemical composition and physiological functions of scorpion fluorescence could provide valuable insights into the ecology and behavior of these intriguing arachnids (3).

Scorpion fluorescence is a unique phenomenon. Exploring this topic means uncovering more information about the biological functions of scorpions. This study advanced scientific learning in this field by highlighting the complexity and importance of this phenomenon (1). By exploring fluorescence dynamics across different UV bands and developmental stages, the study opens up new areas for future research into the functional significance of scorpion fluorescence in ecology and evolution (1).


(1) Liu, Y.; Li, S.; Li, Y.; et al. Differential Fluorescence Features and Recovery Speeds of Different Scorpion Exoskeleton Parts During the Molting Process. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Mol. Biomol. Spectrosc. 2024, 316, 124309. DOI: 10.1016/j.saa.2024.124309

(2) Prchal, S. J. Scorpions. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Available at: https://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_scorpions_new.php (accessed 2024-05-14).

(3) Gaffin, D. D.; Bumm, L. A.; Taylor, M. S.; Popokina, N. V.; Mann, S. Scorpion Fluorescence and Reaction to Light. Anim. Behav. 2012, 83 (2), 429–436. DOI:10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.11.014

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