Nature’s Marvel: Scientists Observe Tiny Pseudoscorpion Riding on a Scorpion for the First Time

Nannowithius wahrmani Phoretic on a Birulatus israelensis

Nannowithius wahrmani phoretic on a Birulatus israelensis. Credit: S. Aharon

Recent research conducted by Yoram Zvik, Dr. Sharon Warburg, and Dr. Efrat Gavish-Regev at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s National Natural History Collections, has documented the first-ever observation of phoresy between a myrmecophile pseudoscorpion and a myrmecophile scorpion.

Phoresy, a well-established phenomenon among pseudoscorpions, involves their attachment to hosts for dispersal into new environments. Documented instances of phoresy include pseudoscorpions attaching themselves to various hosts, ranging from mammals and birds to different insect orders and even other arachnids.

Jordan Valley

The main study area in the northern part of the Jordan valley, where Birulatus israelensis and Nannowithius wahrmani were found. Credit: Y. Zvik

The study focused on pseudoscorpions belonging to an endemic Withiidae species, Nannowithius wahrmani observed clinging themselves onto the endemic scorpion species Birulatus israelensis in Israel.

The Withiidae family, encompassing 37 genera and 170 species, has a global distribution, with a significant presence in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Species within the genus Nannowithius, exhibit myrmecophilic tendencies, forming symbiotic associations with ant colonies.

Pseudoscorpions and Scorpions in Symbiosis

The research focuses on the Nannowithius pseudoscorpions observed on the Birulatus scorpion in Israel, marking the first recorded instance of pseudoscorpions engaging in phoresy on a scorpion host.

Nannowithius wahrmani Phoretic on a Birulatus israelensis Close Up

Nannowithius wahrmani phoretic on a Birulatus israelensis. Credit: Y. Zvik

As part of his MSc study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, at the laboratory of Dr. Gavish-Regev and Prof. Dror Hawlena, Yoram Zvik, now a PhD student at the laboratory of Prof. Eran Gefen, University of Haifa, conducted an extensive seven-year study, involving field surveys, nest monitoring, and observations in the eastern part of Israel. Over a thousand observations of Birulatus israelensis were documented, with only two observations of the pseudoscorpions species Nannowithius wahrmani on the scorpion’s back during specific dates in late spring.

The co-evolution of this phoretic behavior suggests an effective dispersal mechanism, potentially triggered by the high foraging activity of the Messor ants during late spring. The study raises intriguing questions about the cues for dispersion, the coevolutionary relationship between the pseudoscorpions and scorpions, and the potential benefits of this symbiotic interaction.

Nannowithius wahrmani

Nannowithius wahrmani. Credit: S. Warburg

This groundbreaking observation not only expands our understanding of arachnid behavior but also opens avenues for future research into the intricate world of symbiotic relationships within the ant nest ecosystem. The discovery prompts further exploration of the complex symbiotic interactions within ant nest ecosystems, including how pseudoscorpions elude ants, their alternative hosts, and the cues for both pseudoscorpions and scorpions to disperse.

Reference: “Hitching a ride on a scorpion: the first record of phoresy of a myrmecophile pseudoscorpion on a myrmecophile scorpion” by Sharon Warburg, Yoram Zvik and Efrat Gavish-Regev, 29 December 2023, Arachnologische Mitteilungen Arachnology Letters.
DOI: 10.30963/aramit6605

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