Scorpionism is a global health concern, with an estimation of over one million annual envenomation cases. Despite this, little is known regarding the drivers of scorpion venom potency. One widely held view is that smaller scorpions with less-developed chelae possess the most potent venoms. While this perception is often used as a guide for medical intervention, it has yet to be tested in a formal comparative framework. Here, we use a phylogenetic comparative analysis of 36 scorpion species to test whether scorpion venom potency, as measured using LD50, is related to scorpion body size and morphology. We found a positive relationship between LD50 and scorpion total length, supporting the perception that smaller scorpions possess more potent venoms. We also found that, independent of body size, scorpion species with long narrow chelae have higher venom potencies compared to species with more robust chelae. These results not only support the general perception of scorpion morphology and potency, but also the presence of an ecology trade-off with scorpions either selected for well-developed chelae or more potent venoms. Testing the patterns of venom variations in scorpions aids both our ecological understanding and our ability to address the global health burden of scorpionism.
Keywords: LD50; body size; chela morphology; defense mechanisms; evolutionary trade-off; phylogenetic comparative analyses; potency; scorpions; telson morphology; venom.