Watch how scorpions are milked for their potent venom

Did you know scorpion venom is milked for certain medicines?
Christopher McFadden

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In Turkey, scorpion venom has been used to make anti-venom serums since the 1940s. One particular species, Androctonus crassicauda, or the "Arabian fat-tailed scorpion", has been shown to be effective against its own venom, but also that of some other species too. 

The venom from this particular scorpion can be pretty nasty with symptoms of exposure ranging from severe pain at the site of injection, to potential heart and respiratory failure from the venom's neurotoxins and cardiotoxins. For this reason, a reliable anti-venom is a must in areas of the world where this nocturnal hunter roams. 

The antivenom is usually derived from immunizing horses with either crushed scorpion telsons, the nasty bit at the end with the stinger, or, more recently, milked venom from farm-bred scorpions. 

But, you might ask, how on Earth do you actually milk a scorpion? Well, let's find out, shall we? 

Step 1: Get some scorpions

Androctonus crassicaudan is a native scorpion to the Middle East including certain areas of Turkey. In areas like Turkey, the scorpion can often be found in ruins of old, neglected buildings, or on the margins of deserts. 

The scorpions can either be caught in the wild or more efficiently, bred in special farms. These usually consist of large plastic box "tanks" where scorpions are fed and watered especially for the purposes of milking for venom. Each scorpion is kept in isolation (as they are very aggressive and territorial) and, of course, sealed inside with a sealable lid. 

milking scorpions captivity
Androctonus crassicauda. Source: Interesting Engineering

Many such companies who specialize in this industry, will release any excess scorpions into the wild when they have more than they need. 

Step 2: Select your scorpion for milking

When milking times come, the records of each scorpion are reviewed to ensure enough time has elapsed for them to have replenished their venom stocks. Once viable scorpions have been identified, they are selected from their storage racks and taken, carefully, to the milking laboratory. 

scorpion milking farm
The scorpions are kept in plastic boxes in the lab's "farm". Source: Interesting Engineering

 Once scorpions have been moved to the milking lab, the process of extracting the scorpion's potent venom can begin. 

Step 3: Milking a scorpion

Each scorpion's containment box is provided to a milking technician who carefully removes the lid of the box. Once done, a pair of special tongs are used to delicately capture and pin the scorpion in place. 

Scorpions are held firmly enough to hold them in place, but gently enough as to not harm them unduly. While the scorpions are, quite understandably, pretty annoyed at being held like this, they are not harmed.

The tools used by the milking technicians are particularly long to prevent accidental injection of venom into the human technician. This would really ruin their day!

The scorpions are then held over a refrigerator container with chilled vials ready to receive the venom once extracted. Each scorpion is then held in place so that its stinger is directly above the vial. 

A special electrical probe is then used to induce the scorpion to release its venom. The venom is injected from its stinger, as normal, and then allowed to drip into the vial. 

scorpion milking
Source: Interesting Engineering

Every last drop of venom is extracted and the stinger is gently scraped against the rim of the vial to maximize the amount of venom extraction possible. Yields do vary depending on the age, size, and sex of the scorpion, but, on average, each scorpion can produce about 0.5mg per session. 

For this reason, it takes quite a few scorpions to produce enough venom to fill one vial. Once a single scorpion has been "exhausted", the process is repeated with the next, and then the next, until the vial has reached a certain volume of venom.

scorpion milking 1
This scorpion is pretty angry, but it's not being harmed. Source: Interesting Engineering

The process does, admittedly, look a little cruel, especially with the scorpions clearly showing signs of distress, but they are not harmed during the process. 

Step 4: The venom is ready to be sent off for antivenom production

Once a vial is filled, each is labeled with its volume and ID number and placed in a storage container ready for packaging. Once processed, the contents of each vial are then transferred to more permanent, and sterile glass vials before being sealed and packaged.

milking scorpions vials
Source: Interesting Engineering

The vials of scorpion venom are then ready to be sent on to the ultimate client to process into whatever end product they are intended for - in most cases anti-venom. 

And that's how you milk a scorpion! Fascinating. 

If you enjoyed watching this industrial process, you might want to learn about yet another? How about, for example watching how hair dye is made in a factory? 

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