The venom of a deathstalker scorpion is highly dangerous for adults, and potentially lethal for children, but has been a valuable avenue for drug research. It has a no-nonsense trajectory, moving straight towards its target before flicking upward (stock)
The world's most lethal scorpion, the deathstalker, has been caught on high-speed camera for the first time lashing out with its stinger, according to scientists.
A comparison of half-a-dozen scorpion species shown in ultra-slow motion revealed an unsuspected variety of strike modes.
The deathstalker had the fastest lunge of all, with its venomous stinger snapping over its head like a whip at 130 centimetres (51 inches) per second.
It has a no-nonsense trajectory, moving straight towards its target before flicking upward. The emperor scorpion - the world's largest - has a similar open strike.
Other species, such as the black spitting scorpion, which can squirt venom at a distance, and various members of the hottentotta genus, strike with a more circular motion, forming an 'O'.
'We found that different 'tail' shapes' - some slim, some fatter - 'appear to permit different strike performances,' said senior author Arie van der Meijden, a professor at the University of Porto in Portugal, who they reported the results in the journal Functional Ecology.
To record and analyse the lightning-fast strikes, van der Meijden and his team built a small platform surrounded by mirrors on all four sides.
Scorpions use their defensive arsenal against bats, snakes, lizards and other predators.
They also use their stinger to catch prey, and during mating.
A 2008 study in the journal Acta Tropica estimated that more than 3,000 people die every year from scorpion bites.
Measuring up to 110 millimetres (4.3 inches) in length, deathstalkers (Leiurus quinquestriatus) are found in dry regions of North Africa and the Middle East, where they live under rocks.
Their venom is highly dangerous for adults, and potentially lethal for children, but has been a valuable avenue for drug research.