01 August, 2016

Scorpion of medical importance and their identification

Scorpions are quite a diverse group with 2301 species around the world (pr 01.08.16). Even though infamous, most scorpions are quite harmless and perhaps around 50 species can cause death or serious morbidity in humans.

The challenge in scorpion sting cases is the correct identification of the scorpion involved. Incomplete identification or misidentification happens, and in some cases this can cause inefficacy in the treatment of the symptoms caused by a dangerous species (or even worsen the outcome).

In a recent article, Wilson Lourenco attempts to explain and elucidate a number of common problems in scorpion identification, taxonomy, distribution and biogeography. The article is written in a language making it possible for non-zoologists to understand and in this way increasing the knowledge about scorpions for both professionals and amateurs. Hopefully, this will also be a tool for those treating scorpion sting patients.

The aim of this contribution is to bring general information on the classification and in particular on the specific identification of scorpion species dangerous to humans. Several generic groups are taken into consideration, but the Neotropical genus Tityus C. L. Koch, 1836 is used as a major example. The content of this paper is mostly addressed to non-specialists whose research embraces scorpions in several fields such as venom toxins and public health. Although efforts have been made in the last 20 years to create better links between ‘true scorpion experts’ and non-specialists who use scorpions in their research, such exchanges had never led to a consensus among those different branches of biological and medical research. Consequently, many cases of species misidentification and even more serious errors concerning scorpion classification/identification are often present in the specialized literature. In conclusion, it is suggested here that the frequent cases of misidentification observed in several reports may induce mistakes in the final interpretation of results, leading only to more inefficacity in the treatment of problems caused by infamous scorpion species.

Lourenco WR. Scorpion incidents, misidentification cases and possible implications for the final interpretation of results. J Venom Anim Toxins Incl Trop Dis. 2016;22:1. [Open Access]

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