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My Close Call With a Deathstalker Scorpion

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

Deathstalker scorpion camouflaging in the dirt and dust of a cave
The deathstalker (Leiurus quinquestriatus), the world's most venomous scorpion. Photo by Austin Youngquist

Imagine, if you will, crawling on your hands and knees in a remote desert cave before suddenly spotting the world's most venomous scorpion species—mere inches away from where your hand just was! That was essentially my exciting first experience with the legendary deathstalker.

Back in 2011, when taking a day off from the archaeological dig in Jerusalem to travel to Qumran National Park, a friend told us about a dreadful scorpion native to the area whose sting could result in death within a mere couple of hours. He said we would have to be airlifted immediately to the hospital in Jerusalem if stung. Since we were only hiking and lightly exploring the area, I didn't feel too concerned, but I did pay attention to where my hands went.

Fast forward to the exploratory expedition of the 2019 Qumran dig with Dr. Randall Price of World of the Bible Ministries and Dr. Oren Gutfeld of Israel Archaeological Services. During fundraising for my flight and participation, I had shared about this dangerous local scorpion I'd heard of, as an amusing point of interest when asked about potential hazards. Little did I know I would get to come face-to-face with one, alone and in tight quarters.

A few days after my arrival at Qumran, the team tasked me with packing up equipment from the first cave and helping to carry it on up the cliffs to the next cave. Pleased to be given what I considered a fun and engaging challenge, I entered the cave as I had the day before, where one must basically get down on hands and knees to crawl into a sizeable cavern deeper within the cliffside. I scanned the area around my hands as I went, just in case. Piece by piece, item by item, I shuffled the gear back out to the cave's opening where teammates could start carrying some of it up.

After moving a stack of archaeological buckets off the ground there in the cave, I looked down and (barely) spotted it: that deadly arachnid which poses a serious threat to anyone who gets within striking distance. My hand had just been inches away from it. Wow! From far away, it would be quite difficult to discern, too, due to the effective camouflage. Deathstalkers blend into their environment with ease. So cool! And a little scary when you consider the implication for human cave crawlers.

In case you're wondering, yes, I did consider squishing it. But, since this was presumably on park property, and since our team had wrapped up work in this cave (not to mention that we were guests in its cavernous home), I opted to let it live.

Obviously I looked this amazing creature up online shortly thereafter. The deathstalker (Leiurus quinquestriatus) ranked #2 among most lethal scorpions, second only to the Indian Red Scorpion, according to one source. However, I did find that Guinness World Records lists them as the #1 most venomous scorpion , which apparently means that it has the most lethal venom when injected into mice subcutaneously (LD50 of 0.25 mg/kg). Their powerful brew of chemical concoctions shows promise for cancer treatment among other diseases. It's a good thing to let them live, but boy am I grateful I did not accidentally put my hand on one!


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