A field guide to Israeli scorpions, published last month by the Nature and Parks Authority, will enable hikers and nature lovers to become familiar with these kin to spiders that are found throughout the country.
Users can try to identify the 21 scorpion species that have been discovered so far in Israel, including at least one that is unique to the region — Compsobuthus carmelitis. But caution is advised: At least three of the 21 have a dangerous sting.
Scorpions are important to the ecosystem, eating some creatures and being eaten by others.
None of the scorpions found in Israel are protected species. But their future is in danger because some of their natural habitats like sands in the coastal region are beginning to disappear, mainly due to construction. They are also under threat due to the illegal trade in scorpions, which are often sought because of the therapeutic potential of their venom.
The guide is based on information from dozens of researchers and nature lovers, among them Yoram Zvik of the scorpion research laboratory at Yeruham’s Hoopoe Ornithology and Ecology Center.
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There are about 2,400 known species of scorpions, and probably many more unknown ones, according to scientists. Scorpions provide various services to man, mainly in the field of medicine, because medications can be developed from the various toxins in their venom.
Researchers have isolated about 100,000 different toxins from the venom, which are used to treat brain cancer and diseases of the heart and pancreas, and to produce painkillers and treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatism, lupus and diabetes.
The toxins are also used to prevent organ rejection during transplants and to create ecologically friendly insecticides. The venom of the yellow scorpion, which is common in many regions in Israel, has been used to develop a large number of medications.
The new guide explains how to find and identify scorpions, but also warns against contact with them and stresses great caution when looking for them. “If you do it properly, you can definitely observe scorpions safely and look for them. You have to remember that they usually prefer to freeze in place or flee to burrows.”
Zvik says that in case of a scorpion bite the victim should be calmed, the affected limb should be immobilized, and the victim should transported to a hospital as soon as possible. “In most cases scorpions don’t use the strongest components of the venom because it’s a defensive act. They use strong venom when they paralyze their prey.”
Most types of scorpions in Israel are from the family of Buthidae, which also includes the types most dangerous to humans. They include one that is just two centimeters long — the smallest in Israel and one of the rarest. In the past only a single individual was found, but in recent years there have been more collected in the Jordan Valley region. They were found after nighttime observations by Zvik.