Scorpions are master architects, constructing homes that include both a sunning platform and a cool room that retains humidity, according to new research.
The findings, which will be presented Thursday, July 3, at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual meeting, prove that homes built by animals other than humans can be incredibly comfy and functional, even when they're located in extreme environments.
Scorpion homes have never before been seen in detail, given that they're located underground and require special equipment to investigate. Also, few people want to hang around scorpions for long, given their formidable stingers. But Amanda Adams, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, was up to the challenge.
Adams and her research team began by carefully trapping large-clawed scorpions (Scorpio maurus palmatus) found in Israel's Negev Desert.
Next they prepared replica casts of the scorpions' burrows. To do this, the researchers filled the burrows with molten aluminum. When the casts solidified, they were removed and analyzed with a 3D laser scanner and computer software. The scientists were then able to see how sophisticated the burrows were.
Each burrow began with a short, vertical entrance shaft that flattened out close to the surface. This flat area, a sunning platform, allows the scorpion to safely warm itself before going out at night to forage. (The researchers explained that scorpions are ectothermic animals, meaning they rely on energy from the environment to regulate their internal body temperature.)
Beyond the sunning platform, the burrows turned sharply downward, descending farther below ground until they reached a dead-end chamber -- a cool, humid, comfortable place for the scorpion to rest during the day, with minimal evaporative water loss.
Because all of this architecture is underground, a person could walk right over the tiny entrance hole and not realize that they are standing on top of a miniature, scorpion-built mansion that perfectly satisfies the builder's needs.
"Very little is known about burrow environments," Adams said in a press release. "We plan to expand our studies to more scorpion species around the world, to test how burrow structure is shaped to be part of the burrow builder's extended physiology."