Thanks to the efforts of two Bay Area teenagers, a pair of California scorpion species that have been hidden for tens of thousands of years have been exposed. One at-risk species could be saved by the students' work.

A tip from social media and excursions into the harsh terrain aided in the identification of two new species of arachnid.

Jain and Forbes spotted the scorpions on iNaturalist and started sharing their observations of the natural world. Users all over the world can post photos of organisms they have spotted and others with expertise in the area can identify them.

It would take thousands of people many lifetimes to gather on their own the data recorded on the platform, which Jain says is the real benefit for people doing research.

Harper Forbes, Prakrit Jain and Lauren Esposito. Photograph: Gayle Laird/California Academy of Sciences

Jain and Forbes have a lot of interest in ecology and wildlife.

Lauren Esposito is an arachnologist at the California Academy of Sciences who collaborated with Jain and Forbes. They are like: "Here's every species of snake, here's every scorpion, every butterfly."

The students look at iNaturalist frequently to see if anything catches their attention. These two examples caught their attention due to their small range. They were isolated from the rest of the world because they lived around a former lake that had dried out over time.

The scorpions have to be able to resist super salty, hot, arid, and dry conditions in order to survive. These habitats have been home to these things for tens of thousands of years. They can't exist in the desert because they've become isolated.

Jain says that the specificity of their locations made it easier to identify the species. Any threat to the scorpion's habitat such as solar farms could be disastrous.

Students went to two of California's dry lakes, Soda Lake and Koehn Lake, where they used a blacklight to try and collect enough scorpions to conduct a study. It is easy to find scorpions if they are out on a night. According to Forbes, almost all scorpions fluoresce under black light or UV light. If we didn't have that tool, it would be difficult to collect them in the numbers we deem appropriate.

The environmental threat to P conclusus, whose small habitat is not protected, is a lengthy effort made pressing by the paper published in the journal ZooKeys. It is a tedious process that involves comparative descriptions of things that have never been seen before. For most people at their age, halfway through the process, they would be done with this.

The pair named the scorpion P conclusus, which means "restricted or confined" in reference to the high degree of habitat specialization. The paper calls for threatened status for P conclusus, but it's a long process and could take years.

jain, forbes and esposito walk through woods

Jain is a first-year student at the University of California, Berkeley; Forbes is at the University of Arizona. Photograph: Gayle Laird/California Academy of Sciences

She is not surprised that Jain and Forbes are successful. She met Jain when he was young. He shadowed me as we walked. She says that he knew more about the things she saw than she did. Forbes has taught himself how toIllustrate by hand, some of which appear in the paper, which is something that many of my colleagues are still terrible at after decades.

Jain and Forbes are both first year students at the University of California, Berkeley. Both plan to continue their studies.

Jain said that the fate of a species like P conclusus has much broader implications.

He says that the efforts are not just for Pclusus. The presence of it in the unique habitat indicates that there is more to it than we know. When we aim to preserve this landscape, we want to make sure that all of the plants and animals are here for a long time.