Packing a pinch: functional implications of chela shapes in scorpions using finite element analysis

J Anat. 2012 May;220(5):423-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2012.01485.x. Epub 2012 Feb 23.


Scorpions depend on their pedipalps for prey capture, defense, mating and sensing their environment. Some species additionally use their pedipalps for burrowing or climbing. Because the pincers or chelae at the end of the pedipalps vary widely in shape, they have been used as part of a suite of characters to delimit ecomorphotypes. We here evaluate the influence of the different chela cuticular shapes on their performance under natural loading conditions. Chelae of 20 species, representing seven families and spanning most of the range of chela morphologies, were assigned to clusters based on chela shape parameters using hierarchical cluster analysis. Several clusters were identified corresponding approximately to described scorpion ecomorphotypes. Finite element models of the chela cuticulae were constructed from CT scans and loaded with estimated pinch forces based on in vivo force measurements. Chela shape clusters differed significantly in mean Von Mises stress and strain energy. Normalized FEA showed that chela shape significantly influenced Von Mises stress and strain energy in the chela cuticula, with Von Mises stress varying up to an order of magnitude and strain energy up to two orders of magnitude. More elongate, high-aspect ratio chela forms showed significantly higher mean stress compared with more robust low-aspect ratio forms. This suggests that elongate chelae are at a higher risk of failure when operating near the maximum pinch force. Phylogenetic independent contrasts (PIC) were calculated based on a partly resolved phylogram with branch lengths based on an alignment of the 12S, 16S and CO1 mitochondrial genes. PIC showed that cuticular stress and strain in the chela were correlated with several shape parameters, such as aspect ratio, movable finger length, and chela height, independently of phylogenetic history. Our results indicate that slender chela morphologies may be less suitable for high-force functions such as burrowing and defense. Further implications of these findings for the ecology and evolution of the different chela morphologies are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Extremities / anatomy & histology*
  • Extremities / physiology
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Scorpions / anatomy & histology*
  • Scorpions / physiology
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tensile Strength / physiology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed