Underground Architects: Scorpion Burrows Around the World Have a Lot in Common

Scorpions inhabit a number of different environments in diverse locations around the world. However, a 2016 study shows that whether they live in silty soil, loamy soil, or sand dunes, their burrows have extraordinarily similar features. The standard architecture of their burrows is functional in meeting certain biological needs of the resident scorpions.

Near the surface, scorpion burrows have horizontal platforms like porches where residents can relax and warm up before a night’s hunt or scan the surrounding landscape for predators or prey. Farther down, the burrows have two or more switch-backs or spiral bends. These act as deterrents to predators and also restrict air flow from the surface, so that internal temperatures remain low and humidity remains high. Finally, at the end of the tunnel is a refuge chamber where scorpions carry on activities such as resting, eating, mating, and giving birth.

Researchers studied 43 scorpion burrows in Israel’s Negev desert as well as the Central Highlands and Kalahari Desert in Namibia. They first measured temperature and moisture levels in various positions along the length of the burrows. They found that the tunnels held more moisture than the surrounding soil, offering relief from arid exterior conditions. Then they removed the scorpions from the burrows and poured in molten aluminum. After allowing the aluminum to cool, they dug up the shapes and scanned them, creating 3-D computer models they could analyze with special software.

The researchers discovered that the architecture of the burrows matched the biological needs of scorpions to use the environment to regulate their temperatures. They also found differences in burrow depth based on the composition, consistency, and moisture of the surrounding soil.

The research findings shed new light on the burrowing habits of scorpions. However, other questions remain. For instance, do scorpions really glow in the dark? Read this article to find out.

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