Scorpions are predatory arthropods—exoskeleton or shell-like creatures. They originated in England in the High Middle Ages (around 1200 AD).
Although scorpion venom has a fearsome reputation, there are only about 25 varieties (out of the over 1,700 species) that have venom capable of killing a human being.
Using the venom of one of these deadly varieties as a murder weapon could create an interesting story twist and help craft a rather exotic murder mystery plot.
But to do so, we should focus only on the deadly varieties of scorpions and, in particular, on one of the deadliest species. The Deathstalker scorpion is just such a killer. It’s also known as the Israeli Yellow Scorpion and its tail is full of powerful, lethal venom.
A sting from a Deathstalker is extremely painful and will cause localized muscle paralysis. As the venom spreads throughout the body, the paralytic effects become systemic and a person will eventually die.
The venom contains a small protein called chlorotoxin, a chemical that blocks chloride ions from entering muscle cells. Without chloride ions present, the body’s muscles can’t relax. They remain rigid and are unable to function.
The symptoms of progressive systemic paralysis begin with fine motor skill impairment—such as the inability to move a hand properly or to walk without a limp.
Eventually, the muscles of the diaphragm are affected and breathing becomes difficult. The person will drool when the esophageal muscles tighten, preventing proper swallowing. Speech will be difficult as the tongue muscle ceases to function.
Death usually results from suffocation since the muscles that control breathing become totally paralyzed, although at times the heart muscle ceases to function first and cardiac arrest is the cause of death.
As is sometimes the case with natural poisons, the venom of the Deathstalker has been shown to have medical benefits also. The special proteins in the Deathstalker scorpion’s venom are used as imaging agents.
When dilute versions of the venom are injected, they seek out brain tumor cells and other cancerous tumors. When stimulated by a laser in the near-infrared part of the spectrum, the venom proteins emit a glow that, although invisible to the eye, can be captured by a camera.
Special laboratories (there are only two in the world) “milk” the Deathstalker and other venomous creatures to extract their venom for drug research and medical purposes.
When developing murder mystery plots using exotic murder weapons—such as scorpion venom—one of the considerations is a reliable source of your lethal agent.
In this case, one of those special laboratories or a specialty hospital using the venom extract for imaging would make excellent, believable sources for your murder weapon.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!
Wow, James, your research never ceases to amaze! Great article. Much grist for a mystery/suspense writer’s mill. Thanks once again.
Thanks, James. As they say, “So many ways to murder and so little time (to write about them, that is).” I think I’ll need to publish a couple of short story collections to use all the subjects of my blogs, but there are only so many hours in the day. All the best to you!