California Teens Discover Two New Scorpion Species, on the Hunt For More

by Alex Falls

Two California teens are making scientific headlines after they discovered not one, but two new species of scorpion.

Prakrit Jain, 18, and Harper Forbes, 19, are budding young scientists passionate about ecology. They were on a mission to identify every species of the arachnid in the hillsides of California.

They were browsing through photos on the website iNaturalist when they came across an image that stuck out to them. The translucent, brownish scorpion looked nothing like any species they were familiar with. As soon as Jain and Forbes found this picture, they knew it was something special.

A Young Scientist Speaks Out

The young scientists teamed up with Lauren Esposito a California Academy of Sciences arachnologist. She’s acted as a mentor to them both and collaborated with her to publish their findings. This new team spoke to As it Happens to tell their extraordinary journey to scientific discovery.

Jain said they “immediately knew” they came across an unidentified species. After conducting some meticulous fieldwork, the pair confirmed the species was previously undescribed. They dubbed it Paruroctonus soda because of the salty clay soil it lives in near Soda Lake in San Luis Obispo County. It’s one of two new species the young team described in a new paper published this month in ZooKeys.

Jain says his fascination with nature began when he was a child going on hikes and outdoor adventures with his family. He said his parents did a great job of encouraging his curiosity.

“I recall the first scorpion I saw was when I was like eight or 10 years old, and I found that really, really cool,” Jain said. “I think I know more than most people about California scorpions, but far, far from everything that there is to know. Almost every week, I learn something new about California scorpions that I didn’t know before.”

California Could Be Considered the Scorpion Capital of the World

Esposito said California has one of the most diverse populations of scorpions in the world. Coming across this new species was like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact, both species appear to be restricted to their environments in Soda Lake and Koehn Lake. Both are alkali flats, or salt lakes, which are remnants of glacial lakes from some 10,000 years ago.

“The glaciers completely melted or receded back, and what was left behind was a lake that dried out over time because it no longer had access to a source of freshwater, and so they became … super salty. And the plants and animals that were living around them as they either adapt to that hyper-salinity or they went extinct,” Esposito said.

“And so that’s exactly the case of what’s happened with these scorpions. I suspect that they were probably a part of a thriving ecosystem that lived around … these two isolated lakes. And over time, as those lakes dried up, they adapted to that changing environment and became capable of dealing with this sort of hyper-saline system and are just sort of clinging to life on the plants that also did the same.”