17 January, 2020

Scorpions use different defensive behavior depending on sex, age and the threat level

Scorpions have developed multiple strategies for the defense against predators ranging from playing dead, running away to fighting back with the use of sting and venom. Interestingly, there seems to be differences in defensive behavior within the same species depending on the sex, age, size/strength of the threat and time of the day.

Andre Lira and co-workers published a study last Fall on the defensive behavior in the scorpion Tityus pusillus Lourenço, 2013 (Buthidae) from Brazil. A plasticity in defensive behavior was observed in this species, seeming to be influenced by the sex, age, diel period, and the body part targeted by the predator.

Differences in gender and age and the balance between aggressive behavior and the ability to escape are fundamental in predator–prey interactions, as well as for survival, foraging, and mating success. We investigated the defensive behavior of the scorpion Tityus pusillus and assessed possible differences in their behavior responses associated with sex, age, and diel period, by simulating a predation threat. Predator attacks were simulated by pressing the telsons with forceps, dropping the animals from a height of 25 cm on a plastic tray, restraining the pincers using large rubber-tipped tweezers, or restricting the prosoma. Tityus pusillus (Buthidae) showed five defensive behaviors: thanatosis, fleeing, stinging, standing still, and tail wagging. The scorpions responded with thanatosis or fleeing when their telsons were restricted. The frequency of these responses varied with sex and diel period. Stinging was the primary behavior response to prosoma restriction in both adults and juveniles while standing still was the most frequently observed behavior response to restraining pincers. These results indicate that the plasticity of defensive behavior in T. pusillus in response to predation is influenced by sex, age, diel period, and the body part targeted by the predator.

Lira AFA, Almeida FAF, Albuquerque CMR. Reaction under the risk of predation: effects of age and sexual plasticity on defensive behavior in scorpion Tityus pusillus (Scorpiones: Buthidae). Journal of Ethology. 2019;38(1):13-9. [Subscription required for full text]

Thanks to André for sending me this interesting article that I have been way to slow to read!

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