The gecko “turns into chaos”, smashes the scorpion and swallows it

A new study reveals that normally calm and gentle geckos turn aggressive, like “going crazy” when trying to subdue a meal that is… a scorpion.

When a Western striped gecko (scientific name: Coleonyx variegatus) bites a scorpion, it repeatedly whips its head from side to side, slamming the scorpion to the ground again and again. Lead author Malachi Whitford, who conducted this study in the doctoral program in ecology at San Diego State University (SDSU), said geckos are “least scary animals you’ll ever meet, but after they see a scorpion they go into ‘berserker mode’.”

The gecko 'turns into a berserker' beats the scorpion and swallows it - Photo 1.

According to research, this violent behavior can help geckos protect themselves from scorpion venom.

Whitford said animals such as groundhogs, crocodiles and some carnivores have the ability to neutralize the movement of their prey by shaking their bodies.

Western striped geckos live in arid regions of western North America and are about 10 to 15 centimeters long. This reptile mainly eats insects but sometimes also eats dune scorpion (Sumbleurus mesaensis).

Study co-author and SDSU professor of biology, Rulon Clark, first observed geckos eating scorpions in the 1990s, when he was a research assistant working in a desert near Yuma, Arizona . When the researchers decided to take a closer look at this, it became clear that geckos are more inclined to engage in extremely aggressive ‘berserker’ behavior when encountering scorpions.

After swishing the head, the gecko will quickly swallow the scorpion, says Whitford. “The whole process is over in just a few seconds”.

The gecko ‘turns into a berserker’ beats the scorpion and swallows it

The scientists filmed geckos as they captured scorpions and other prey at 1,200 frames per second. They conducted 21 trials in which 9 geckos were fed scorpions and 10 trials where 8 geckos ate other insect prey. Using digital tracking technology, the scientists mapped the gecko’s head movements frame-by-frame, measuring variables such as velocity and acceleration as the gecko swatted the scorpion back and forth more than a dozen times in just over a decade. a few seconds.

Research shows that geckos turn their heads and bodies back and forth in cycles to slam the scorpion into the ground. This move can help geckos eat scorpions more safely. One possibility is that shaking would immobilize the scorpion; but only about 62% of scorpions remained motionless after being whipped in all directions.

It is also unclear whether geckos have developed resistance to the venom of scorpions. According to research, 90% of geckos that are fed scorpions get stung during encounter, but it’s possible that shaking their heads against the scorpion reduces the severity of the sting or prevents the scorpion from delivering its full venom. . All the shaking and pounding can also be an attempt to break the stinger of the scorpion.

The gecko 'turns into a berserker' beats the scorpion and swallows it - Photo 3.

The researchers said: “Given the speed and violence of the capture process, we assume that the gecko slams the scorpion to either cause mass trauma and immobilize it, or potentially break the stinger and render the scorpion harmless.” .

“From our videos, it’s clear that the geckos are slamming the scorpion into the ground. However, we can’t yet describe the force on the scorpion.” Whitford explained. “Ideally, the next step would be to study the behavior using 3D videography.”

Reference: LiveSciece

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