Bay Area high school students describe two new species of scorpions with California Academy of Sciences
Newly described scorpion species Paruroctonus soda with offspring. Credit: Gayle Laird, California Academy of Sciences

Two high school students from the Bay Area worked with the California Academy of Sciences to add two new scorpions to the state's list. The new-to-science scorpions were discovered byHarper Forbes and Prakrit Jain, avid users on the community science platform iNaturalist.

There are two new species of playa scorpions that can only be found in the deserts of Central and Southern California. These newly described species give a better understanding of California's biodiversity and the places most in need of protection, which is a cornerstone of the Academy's Thriving California initiative. A study detailing the species was published today in ZooKeys.

Forbes and Jain discovered a new scorpion species on iNaturalist that had been uploaded six years before.

Jain said they weren't sure what they were looking at. We studied scorpions in the Paruroctonus and found that they evolve to live in Koehn Lake. We realized we were looking at a different species when we came back.

After a scorpion was found in San Luis Obispo County, it was uploaded to iNaturalist. After a few years of research, Forbes and Jain knew that it was a new species in the same genera. Two new-to-science scorpions, P. soda and P. conclusus, were created after they contacted Esposito.

"Harper and Prakrit went through all the steps to formally describe a species, sampling the populations and comparing them with existing specimen in our collection." They are passionate about this research and there is a lot of work involved. Their hobby advances biodiversity science.

Both P. soda and P. conclusus have adapted to the alkaline basins. Soda Lake and Koehn Lake are the only places where each species can be found. Forbes and Jain traveled to the lakes to collect specimen of new species. After scouting the alkali flats during the daytime for habitats most suited for playa scorpions, they set out with their instruments at dusk. Blacklights were used to look for open playas while keeping an eye out for their glowing subjects. They searched the scorpions' usual hiding places, looking into cracks in the hard clay soil and combing through common alkali sink plants. They were able to collect a sample size of both males and females for the study.

The species range for P. soda is small, but it is located within Carrizo Plain National Monument, which is protected by the federal government. This isn't the case for P. conclusus

While no official assessment has been carried out for either species, P. conclusus can only be found on a small strip of land. A single solar farm, mine, or housing development could wipe out the entire species.

Climate change endangers all wildlife, particularly in delicate desert environments, even though P. soda seems to be relatively safe. Academy scientists hope to work with schools and communities in California to conduct further biodiversity research. The initiative hopes to halt biodiversity loss in the Golden State by using crowd-sourced data from iNaturalist.

Forbes and Jain will attend the University of Arizona and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively, in the fall. Their next major project will be a book of California's scorpions, and they are working on it. They are excited to return to the field to find, collect, and identify more scorpions.

Jain goes out at night to find scorpions for the first time. A trip to the desert is always a challenge and an adventure.

More information: Two new alkali-sink specialist species of Paruroctonus Werner 1934 (Scorpiones, Vaejovidae) from central California, ZooKeys (2022). DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.1117.76872 Journal information: ZooKeys