Scorpions and scorpion products are in use for medical purpose in many countries across the Indian ocean. Stories about this animal were gathered and written by students. They are all part of a pedagogical project, funded by the National University of Singapore and the Université de Paris. The Bestiary site is a work-in-progress and a participatory educational tool, representing animals whose products or body parts are used to promote health and healing.

Scorpion

A Story by Soh Jun Han, Owen

Scorpions are predatory arachnids with an evolutionary history going back 435 million years. They can be found on all continents except Antarctica, and are easily identified by their pincers and stinger. 

From a cultural and religious standpoint, the scorpion is identified as a protective force as well as an embodiment of evil. In Tibet, the scorpion symbolises negative or harmful action. Among the Tibetan Buddhists, the polarity of ‘good and evil’ does not exist – there is only an enlightened state of ‘good’ as well as a distortion of that ‘good’. The scorpion is thought to have transformed into the latter, and has been used as a representation that everyone can obtain the enlightened state of ‘good’ through compassion. In China the scorpion emblem is used as a charm to defend against evil powers. The scorpion symbol is used alongside 4 other symbols, namely the spider, viper, toad and centipede, and families with one son usually worship these five symbols for protection. These families even have motifs embroidered with black silk thread on a read cloth for the child to wear, which is believed to prevent illness. In China, the character 万 that symbolises 10,000, is derived from the scorpion symbol.

From a traditional medicine standpoint, the scorpion is commonly used to stop spasms and subdue endogenous wind, as well as to dispel toxins and wind. Scorpions are usually caught in spring or autumn, and are then boiled and subsequently sun-dried. Due to its pungent and neutral properties, it is associated with the liver meridian, and it is often combined with other medicinal herbs to treat convulsions and spasms of the hand and feet. Some practitioners also recommend scorpion as a cure for headaches and joint aches.

Folio from a Manafi’ al-hayawan (Usefulness of animals) by Ibn Bakhtishu (d.1058); recto: Magpies and scorpions; Il-Khanid dynasty, Mongol period, early 14th century. Iran, Freer Gallery of Art

Value in Asian medicine ​​The scorpion has a stinger on its back, and while most species possess a sting which can be compared to that of a bee sting, there are a few scorpion species that have a sting venomous enough to kill humans (“Researchers from Kongju National University Discuss Findings in Zoonoses,” 2021). This definitely is a threat to humans, and could negatively affect our wellbeing. 

Despite this, humans have been known to consume scorpions, especially in Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. From a food hygiene point of view, the consumption of scorpion is not as hygienic as one might think. Research has found out that there are seven different families of bacteria in a raw scorpion, of which five are pathogenic to humans (Grabowski & Klein, 2021). This shows that the scorpion is indeed a zoonosis carrier, and it further highlights the importance of washing and heating up scorpions before consumption. The consumption of scorpion is also common in many forager societies (e.g. indigenous Australian, Papuan, Indonesian or Amazonians). They consume scorpion to improve their diet, and the knowledge of which species may be eaten under specific conditions is passed on orally through generations of people (Grabowski & Klein, 2021). Hence, diseases caused by the consumption of scorpion is kept minimal.

In addition to the usage of scorpions in TCM, to stop spasms, subdue endogenous wind and treat convulsions in the hand and feet, they are also used in western medicine. Researchers from Kongju National University found out that the antimicrobial peptide Css54 can be derived from scorpion venom. Css54 exerts potent antimicrobial activity through a disruption of the bacterial membrane of zoonotic bacteria. With this, Css54 can be used as an alternative to antibiotics in humans and animal husbandry (“Researchers from Kongju National University Discuss Findings in Zoonoses”, 2021) With this, we can see that the usage of scorpion in medical purposes can be utilised both in a “traditional” and “modern” sense, where TCM is the former while western medicine is the latter.

References
Are scorpions poisonous. (n.d.). Orkin. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://www.orkin.com/stinging-pests/scorpions/poisonous-scorpions
Grabowski, N. T., & Klein, G. (2017). Bacteria encountered in raw insect, spider, scorpion, and centipede taxa including edible species, and their significance from the food hygiene point of view. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 63, 80-90. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2017.01.007
Researchers from Kongju National University discuss findings in zoonoses (Scorpion-Venom-Derived Antimicrobial Peptide Css54 Exerts Potent Antimicrobial Activity by Disrupting Bacterial Membrane of Zoonotic Bacteria) (Scorpion-Venom-Derived …). (2020, December 11). Health & Medicine Week, 6379. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A643911251/AONE?u=nuslib&sid=summon&xid=835ab929 

Scorpion

A Story by Girija Shenoy

Scorpions are venomous arachnids, well known for their poisonous stings. Scorpions are small, yet they can be predators as well as prey. Only 25 species of scorpions have been known to be lethal to humans. Scorpions also care for their young after birth, carrying them on their backs during the time the newborn scorpions develop their exoskeletons. The ancient Egyptian goddess Serket was originally the deification of a scorpion, and is worshipped as the goddess of fertility, animals, medicine and healing venomous bites, among others. Serket’s name is heavily based on the Egyptians’ view of scorpions themselves, having two meanings: “she who tightens the throat” in reference to the paralyzing effect of scorpion stings, and “she who lets the throat breathe,” alluding to her nature as the goddess of healing who could counter the poison of other venomous creatures. Serket was also considered to be able to cure scorpion stings. Physicians with talent in healing were called “Followers of Serket” in honour of the goddess.

In communities where especially dangerous species of scorpions were found, Serket was an enthusiastically worshipped goddess. She was also considered the protector and patron goddess of some pharaohs, namely, Scorpion I and Scorpion II. Even so, temples dedicated to Serket have not been found, despite having many priests and worshippers among the communities. In modern day, scorpions are seen more for their economic value. Extracting scorpion venom to sell to pharmaceutical research has become a more common practice in several Middle Eastern countries. Entrepreneurs in Egypt take advantage of the desert landscape, where scorpions can be found aplenty, and extract their precious venom for commercial pharmaceutical use, exporting the venom to other countries for development of antivenom and medicines for hypertension, among others.

Asavari Ragini from a Ragamala (garland of melodies). Artist: Shaykh Husain Shaykh Ali Shaykh Hatim. Reign of Rao Raja Singh, 1591. Bundi Court. Rajput School. India, Uttar Pradesh, Chunar. This painting belongs to a ragamala (garland of ragas, or musical modes), which forms a unique genre that may be termed “pictorial music.” Musical modes are visualized as male ragas or female raginis. They correspond to varying emotional states and are associated with specific times of day or seasons of year. Here, a dark-skinned woman sits alone on a rocky outcrop where scorpions play, beside a lotus pond teeming with fish, ducks, and geese. In testimony to her harmony with the natural world, the woman holds a snake in one hand and offers it a morsel, while several other snakes descend from the surrounding trees and move out of the foliage toward her. The inscription above the painting identifies her as Asavari ragini, a muscial mode of lonely longing that very likely originated some fifteen hundred years ago among tribal snake charmers. Freer Gallery of Art

Value in Asian medicine Among about 800 scorpion species discovered so far, 25 species have stings that are lethal to humans and about 50 species have been found to have medical value towards humans. In the book Scorpions of Medical Importance, Keegan identifies and describes different scorpion species, consequences of their stings and how to effectively address them. He even includes species that are not of medical importance but are commonly found in order to ease the public’s apprehension.

As briefly mentioned in my last post, scorpion venom is a valuable commodity that is exported for pharmaceutical use. Scorpion venom contains neurotoxins that are responsible for muscle paralysis. Studies have found that severe scorpion stings release so much neurotoxin that they can result in failure of the cardiovascular system of a grown human. These symptoms include hypertension, congestive heart failure, and pulmonary edema, which is caused due to excess fluid build-up in the lungs. People affected by scorpion stings have also shown signs of myocardial infarctions, or heart attacks. Research indicates that these scorpion toxins are composed of several different molecules, and their toxic nature makes them ideal for drug testing in pharmaceutical research. The components of the toxins are biologically active and have been used in making antibiotics and even anti-cancer drugs.

Scorpions are also used in ancient Iranian traditional medicine. It seems that the concept of mithridatism (the practice of protecting oneself against poison by gradually self-administering non-lethal amounts to oneself regularly) arose from the Greek ruler Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus, who ingested small amounts of the venom daily, to develop immunity to it, as he feared being poisoned. In Sudan, scorpions are put in sesame oil, and the oil is then used to soothe scorpion stings. The idea of fighting fire with fire seems to be applicable in this case.

References
Keegan HL. (1980)  Scorpions of medical importance. University Press of Mississippi.
Gueron M, Yaron R. (1970) ‘Cardiovascular manifestations of severe scorpion sting: clinicopathologic correlations.’ Chest. Feb 1;57(2):156-62.
Ortiz E, Gurrola GB, Schwartz EF, Possani LD. (2015) ‘Scorpion venom components as potential candidates for drug development.’ Toxicon. Jan 1(93):125-35.
Dehghani R, Arani MG. 2015. ‘Scorpion sting prevention and treatment in ancient Iran.’ Journal of traditional and complementary medicine. Apr 1;5(2):75-80