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Fast Draw: In Search Of Scorpions

6 minutes

(Describer) By spiky plants and dry ground...

(male narrator) Lorenzo Prendini has poked around places like this for a long time.

(Describer) He digs with a spade.

From childhood, he picked up things that wiggled or crawled. But what he's looking for here is not child's play.

(Describer) Rolling over a rock, he picks up a large scorpion.

Och.

(male narrator #2) That's a really angry scorpion. And this is Lorenzo Prendini. He really likes scorpions. He makes his living handling these dangerous creatures. He's collected scorpions in over two dozen countries and discovered more than 150 new species.

(narrator) He may be focused on finding new species, but to understand scorpions, Prendini says you have to go way back in time-- 425 million years ago. There were no humans or dinosaurs or mammals. Home for the scorpions was the original supercontinent Pangea, before the continents broke up. Prendini says this was the scorpion's heyday, when they were some of the most fearsome animals.

(male) They were top predators. You had giant cockroaches and giant millipedes and huge dragonflies soaring around.

(Describer) Marker drawings are animated.

There were probably more big things to eat and less big things to eat them.

(narrator #2) They spread worldwide by staying put, catching free rides as the continents drifted apart toward where they are today. Although they're not found in Antarctica, we learned that scorpions do live where the temperature drops far below zero. He says most scorpion stings are not dangerous. Although, some species need to be handled with extreme care.

(Describer) He picks up another with thin tongs.

(male) Family Buthidae--I don't pick these scorpions up by hand because they're extremely venomous.

(Describer) Held by its tail, it thrashes with legs moving.

You can see the very thick metasoma, or tail, and the rather small pedipalps on the front.

(Describer) He takes out a plastic bag.

These scorpions deliver a very painful and unpleasant sting.

(narrator) Prendini's closest brush with death from a scorpion sting happened when he was collecting scorpions in Central Asia at nighttime using an ultraviolet black light, which makes hard-to-spot scorpions glow blue.

(Describer) On the phone...

I got caught black lighting in Uzbekistan one night just before a thunderstorm-- an electric storm.

(Describer) The story is animated.

It was very high humidity, very dark, and a lot of wind and very, very hot. Scorpions were out en masse. I got careless and picked up a very large Mesobuthus Caucasicus female and underestimated how big the scorpion was and how narrow the container hole was. As I was putting her in, she grabbed the mouth of the container and stung me right on top of the thumb. The pain was unbelievable. The venom spread from my hand quite rapidly and my arm was full of numbness and excruciating pain. I could feel my heart rate going up and difficulty in breathing. I really couldn't do anything except lie there and hope for the best. He didn't have the antivenom. He did have antihistamines, which kept the swelling down while his body processed the poison. Fortunately, reactions like this are rare. Out of 2,000 scorpion species, only about 25 are considered venomous enough to endanger human life. Sure, these scorpions can rock you like a hurricane, but their venom is also a gift. Some of the most dangerously venomous species are the ones that offer the most to the medical world, helping other illnesses sting a little less. Their venoms are helping to treat multiple sclerosis, diabetes, psoriasis, and arthritis. Others show promise for treating certain kinds of brain cancers, using poison not to kill ya, but to make you stronger.

(narrator #2) Prendini has a way with scorpions. Instead of stinging him when he extracts them, they often just curl up in his hand.

(Describer) He holds two of them.

(male) You can see the very interesting sexual dimorphism in this species.

(narrator #2) It seems like he's charming the scorpions. Truthfully, he's the one who's entranced...

(Describer) A picture of him moves its mouth.

That is just an amazing--it's a really fantastic experience.

(narrator) Scorpions are also helping scientists study the health of our planet. Because each species is specific to its microclimate, and because populations more or less stay put, they are living indicators of how the earth is evolving...

(narrator #2) These scorpions have billions of cousins around the world. Thanks to this scorpion hunter, we're getting to know their world and ours a little better.

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Lorenzo Prendini spends his time looking for new species of scorpions and researching their ancestries. He also studies how venomous species might benefit the medical community. Josh Landis and Mitch Butler follow Lorenzo out into the field to study scorpions and talk with him about his experiences through this research. Part of the Fast Draw Series.

Media Details

Runtime: 6 minutes

Fast Draw
Episode 1
6 minutes
Grade Level: 6 - 12
Fast Draw
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Fast Draw
Episode 3
3 minutes
Grade Level: 6 - 12
Fast Draw
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12