UAE scientists discover new species of scorpion in Hajar mountains

Night excursion into Wadi Wurayah National Park ends with exciting find for researchers

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Scientists in Fujairah have discovered a new species of scorpion in the Hajar mountains.

The creature is said to be part of the Orthochirus family, which are not known to populate the UAE.

The group of experts came across 50 black scorpions during their field trip to Wadi Wurayah National Park in April this year.

While most of the scorpions found were the more familiar Hottentotta jayakari – or black-tailed alligator species, another caught the scientists' eyes because it stood out from the rest.

This experience made me appreciate all the hard work we put into preserving the environment
Areej Jaradat, UAE University

"The scorpion species we found at Wadi Wurayah is the genus Orthochirus," said Andrew Gardner, associate director of biodiversity conservation at Emirates Nature–WWF.

He told The National that while he believed it to be a new species to the region, there are other several similar species and the exact identification would require a closer look under a microscope.

"In general, Arabian species are often lumped as O. innessi but this is likely to be a group of different species," he said.

"A new species was recently described from Saudi called O. katerinae, while O. glabifrons is known from Oman. So it could be one of these, or something totally new."

The new species was identified by its rounded tail segment and pitted exoskeleton, as well as its short fat tail carried close over its body.

Magical discovery

The Wadi Wurayah National Park is home to more than 1,100 species, including the rare Blandford fox, Gordon’s wildcat, hedgehogs and caracal – but it was the tiny arachnid that drew the attention of the scientists.

The three-hour event was organised as part of Emirates Nature–WWF’s Leaders of Change programme, which promotes volunteer contributors to citizen scientists, and was attended by 20 people keen to spot scorpions at night using ultraviolet lights.

The group was accompanied by biodiversity manager Nasser Obeidat from the Fujairah Environment Authority and wildlife expert Dr Gardner.

While looking for signs of scorpions to check on local populations and effectiveness of conservation strategies, the scientists found themselves surrounded by 50 scorpions.

“I was surprised by the quantity of scorpions and the easiness to find them,” said Emilie Rebert, a facilitator at French NGO Climate Fresk, who joined a similar trip to Umm Al Quwain recently to check on lizard and insect populations.

The newly spotted Orthochirus scorpion. Photo: Emirates Nature Team

“The UV lights were doing magic – scorpions simply stand out in the dark,” she said, adding that since they were not moving very much, it made it easier for the scientists to observe them.

“Each time one of us found a scorpion, we tried to identify it with our guide. We saw many scorpions that night and were able to identify them,” she said.

Although it is not entirely clear why, scorpions light up at night because their hyaline layer of exoskeleton reacts to UV light, such as back light or moonlight, causing the body to glow.

Wildlife oasis

The Unesco Biosphere Reserve is a haven for wildlife and rare species.

It is one of just three conservation areas in the UAE that is home to to the Arabian tahr, a mountain goat native to this region, as well as 208 varieties of plant including the UAE’s only native orchid, Epipactis veratrifolia.

The area is also a hot spot for rare birds, with 94 endangered bird species recorded in the area.

Researchers said the discovery of a potential new species of scorpion proved the value of conservation efforts in the UAE.

“We are not always lucky to encounter species on these trips,” said Areej Jaradat, an environmental biologist at UAE University.

“It was fascinating to find what seems to be a new species, and even more amazing to be involved in this discovery.

“This experience made me appreciate all the hard work we put into preserving the environment.

“It has validated these efforts and gives me even more motivation to keep at it.”

Updated: June 15, 2023, 6:21 AM