The students traveled to salt lakes to collect specimens of unknown arachnids living in the harsh environment
A pair of California
scorpion species that may have crawled under the radar for tens of thousands of years have finally been exposed – thanks to the efforts of two Bay Area teenagers. And for one at-risk species, the students’ work could prove life-saving.
Prakrit Jain of Los Altos and Harper Forbes of Sunnyvale, 17 and 18 at the time, identified two new species – Paruroctonus soda
and Paruroctonus conclusus
– after a tip from social media and excursions into the harsh terrain the arachnids inhabit, aided by a black light and Jain’s mother’s car
It began when Jain and Forbes – who met while working at a nature preserve – spotted the unidentified scorpions on iNaturalist
, a social network that allows people to share their observations of the natural world. Users all over the world can upload photos of organisms they’ve spotted and others with expertise in the area can identify them, Forbes explained.
With about 115m observations recorded on the platform, “the real benefit of this for people doing research is that it allows such an enormous amount of data to be present to anybody,” Jain says – data it would “take thousands of people many lifetimes to gather on their own”.
Jain and Forbes have been interested in ecology and wildlife “pretty much our whole lives”, Jain says.
“These kids can find anything,” says Lauren Esposito, an arachnologist at the California Academy of Sciences who collaborated with Jain and Forbes. “You set them out in a landscape and they’re like: ‘Here’s every species of snake, here’s every scorpion, every butterfly,’ and it’s kind of incredible.”
The students check iNaturalist regularly, “seeing if there’s anything that catches our eye”. Unidentified species frequently appear on the platform, but these two examples caught their attention in part because of their small range. They were “geographically isolated”, Forbes says, living around what Esposito describes as salt lakes, or alkali flats – “a former lake from the glacial era, 10,000 years ago, that’s dried out over time”, leaving a brutal desert environment.