Oldest Scorpion Stings Darwin
Oldest Known Scorpion Tells a Lot about Science and Speculation: Much Promised, Little Delivered
by Jerry Bergman, PhD
In searching for data on the evolution of body organs and structures, one of the best sources is small organisms trapped in amber. Every now and then, though, fossilized creatures in rock contain soft tissue impressions, revealing evidence of organs or organ structures. The evidence is often indirect. Recently, paleontologists found what they call the oldest known scorpion ever uncovered: two fossil specimens of a scorpion named Parioscorpio venator. They claim it shows evidence of a respiratory system that functioned in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. This story gives us an opportunity to separate science from unbridled speculation.
What are Scorpions?
Scorpions are small predatory arachnids varying from 0.03 to 9 inches long (0.76 mm to 23 cm). Insects, by classification, are arthropods with six legs, and arachnids (which include spiders, ticks and mites), are arthropods with eight legs. Among arachnids, scorpions are feared due to their venomous stingers on their tails. About 25 species of scorpions are known to have venom strong enough to kill humans. Unfortunately, these deadly species live mostly in remote areas of the world with limited access to medical treatment. Most of the 1,750 known species of scorpions have venomous stings, but the vast majority are rarely lethal, even though often painful.
Reading Between the Lines
A press release from the Ohio State University News, the academic home of one of the co-authors of the paper, wrote that the scorpion they call a “prehistoric animal” lived “about 437 million years ago.” It had “respiratory and circulatory systems … almost identical to those of our modern-day scorpions.” The dating method used to claim the 437-million-year age of the creature was described as follows:
we date things with ash beds — and when we don’t have volcanic ash beds, we use these microfossils and correlate the years when those creatures were on Earth. It’s a little bit of comparative dating.
Thus, from their own words, assuming their hodge-podge dating method is correct, this scorpion respiratory system has not changed in 437 million Darwin years! A few differences were found, including some that are unique compared to all modern arachnids, namely a pair of large lateral compound eyes and a higher number of sternites in the ventral exoskeleton. The only two ‘primitive’ traits in these fossils (compound eyes and seven mesosomal sternites) have “nothing to do with aquatic or terrestrial adaptation.”
The author added that “researchers found that the animal likely had the capacity to breathe in both ancient oceans and on land.” This, she explains, helps scientists understand “how animals transitioned from living in the sea to living entirely on land.” The challenge of evolving a terrestrial system from an aquatic system is solved, in her thinking, if scorpions evolved a two-function respiratory system over time. They could use the aquatic system first, while one for the terrestrial environment evolved in parallel. This would allow them to breathe using the aquatic system while evolving the parallel respiratory system for life on land. The problem is, it is widely acknowledged that evolution cannot be goal-directed toward future conditions. Each change must provide a selective advantage immediately. In this case, there would be no selective advantage until the terrestrial system evolves that is both functional and beneficial for the survival of the organism.
A similar challenge can be seen in the evolution of sexual reproduction. This would require a totally functional system in both males and females before sexual reproduction is possible. The major theory of sexual differentiation is that life first evolved gendered hermaphrodites which have both male and female reproductive systems that self-fertilize. Examples of hermaphrodites include the great majority of tunicates, snails, earthworms, slugs, pulmonate snails, and the marine gastropod mollusks called opisthobranchs, but hermaphrodite reproduction is also found in a few fish species and other vertebrates. Then, for some unknown reason, hermaphrodites lost the ability to self-fertilize and relied on sexual reproduction. Evolutionists simply presume that the ability to self-fertilize would be a major evolutionary advantage. In the case of scorpion respiration, they presume it would be advantageous for one individual to be able to use both aquatic and terrestrial respiration systems as needed. These are just-so stories that lack conclusive evidence in both fossils and in lab experiments. Scanty evidence doesn’t slow down a Darwinist storyteller.
There’s another problem in these scorpion fossils. Their so-called ‘ancient’ respiratory and circulatory systems are
almost identical to those of our modern-day scorpions—which spend their lives exclusively on land — and operate similarly to those of a horseshoe crab, which lives mostly in the water, but which is capable of forays onto land for short periods of time.
In other words, P. venator could apparently breathe both in land and in water. Does this fact help scientists understand how life evolved from aquatic to terrestrial life? No; it only indicates how an organism can live both in water and on land – something very different. What is required is evidence of a progression from aquatic life to exclusive terrestrial life. An animal that does both is not evidence of a respiratory system evolving from water to land. Yet that question is the concern of this paper. Horseshoe crabs don’t help. Like some other marine organisms, such as grunion,
horseshoe crabs are fully marine that mate in the water and briefly crawl on the beach to lay eggs in either shallow water or directly above the water’s edge, and then immediately return into the ocean.
Details on the Scorpion Fossils
Parioscorpio venator means “progenitor scorpion hunter” referring to its putative transitional status between aquatic and terrestrial life. The vast majority of scorpions today are terrestrial. The scientists openly admit that the scorpion’s “early fossil record is limited, and fundamental questions, including how and when they adapted to life on land, have been difficult to answer.” The scientific report maintains that “elements of the circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems are preserved, and they are essentially indistinguishable from those of present-day scorpions but share similarities with marine relatives.” The authors added, “Detailed studies of the central architecture of the circulatory and respiratory systems in present-day scorpions reveal a strikingly similar arrangement to the preserved structures in P. venator.” They then speculate by faith that early “in arachnid evolution, physiological changes concomitant with the marine-to-terrestrial transition must have occurred.” They were unable to find evidence of these changes, so they wrote:
remarkably, structural change in the circulatory or respiratory [compared to modern examples] systems appear negligible. Whereas there is no unambiguous evidence that this early scorpion was terrestrial, this evidence suggests that ancestral scorpions were likely capable of forays onto land, a behavior similar to that of extant horseshoe crabs.
The focus on scorpions is because they are one of the earliest aquatic animals believed to become fully terrestrial. Nonetheless, the authors admit their scorpion theory of the evolution from aquatic to terrestrial life is very debatable:
Divergent views regarding the habitat of Paleozoic scorpions have been published. Some have argued that the earliest scorpions were marine whereas others have claimed a terrestrial origin. It has also been argued that some Paleozoic scorpions were secondarily aquatic.
Comparisons show that parts of the scorpions were “evolutionary conserved,” meaning they have not changed in the presumed 437 million year age. This admission is contrary to the article title, “A Silurian ancestral scorpion with fossilized internal anatomy illustrating a pathway to arachnid terrestrialisation.” The term terrestrialisation was used only three times in the paper, once in the title and once in each of two references. This goal of the report, according to the title, was not mentioned in the paper even once! Furthermore, the authors admit that “no unambiguous evidence that this early scorpion was terrestrial” exists, only that the “evidence suggests that ancestral scorpions were likely capable of forays onto land” which, if true, also does not support the evolution of aquatic to terrestrial life.
The article has all of the customary sections of a scientific paper, including illustrations, abstract, material, stratigraphic context, and references, but the actual evidence falls far short of a claim by one co-author of the study, Ohio State University Professor of Earth Sciences Loren Babcock. He says that the study found evidence of great significance for evolution – namely, the identification of
a mechanism by which animals made that critical transition from a marine habitat to a terrestrial habitat … a model for other kinds of animals that have made that transition including, potentially, vertebrate animals. It’s a groundbreaking discovery.
But they found no such thing. As one paleontologist remarked: “you do not have to hesitate to be really bold with your claims, because neither the scientific reviewers nor the popular science media will care if your claims are actually supported by the evidence.” As W.C. Fields once said “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.”
The theory tested here was that the terrestrial respiratory system evolved from animals that had both aquatic and terrestrial respiration systems. They then lost the aquatic system, and were able to invade the land, eventually spreading to every corner of the terrestrial environment. This view contradicts the common picture of some fish or mammal slowly evolving from water to land. Much was promised, but very little was delivered in this paper. Even the main issue was qualified with two terms: “Researchers think it was one of the first animals to spend time on land.” This reminds me of Mark Twain’s quip that paleontology consists of a few broken bones and a ton of plaster. Specifically, he wrote that one museum dinosaur consisted of “nine bones and 500 barrels of plaster of Paris.” In short, as Stephen Jay Gould opined, “a plausible story is not necessary true.” After reading the paper, paleontologist Günter Bechly wrote,
was I in for a big surprise, the unpleasant sort. I am not easily shocked, but this paper shocked me. So what was wrong with it? Well, usually peer reviewers receive a check list from the editors that includes the question, “Do the data support the conclusions?” This paper fails miserably and it is beyond me how it could ever pass peer review.
 Arenschield, Laura. 2020. Fossil is the oldest-known scorpion. Researchers think it was one of the first animals to spend time on land. Ohio State News, January 16. https://news.osu.edu/fossil-is-the-oldest-known-scorpion/.
 Arenschield, 2020.
 Bechly, Günter. 2020. The Oldest Scorpion and the Decadence of Evolutionary Science https://evolutionnews.org/2020/01/the-oldest-scorpion-and-the-decadence-of-evolutionary-science/
 Arenschield, 2020.
 Smith, F. LaGard. 2018. Darwin’s Secret Sex Problem: Exposing Evolution’s Fatal Flaw— The Origin of Sex. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.
 Bechly, Günter. 2020.
 Wendruff, Andrew J., et al. 2020. A Silurian ancestral scorpion with fossilized internal anatomy illustrating a pathway to arachnid terrestrialisation. Scientific Reports. 10(14): 1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-56010-z.
 Wendruff, 2020, p. 1.
 Wendruff, 2020, p. 6.
 Wendruff, 2020.
 Dunlop, J. A., Scholtz, G. & Selden, P. A. 2015. “Water-to-land transitions” in: Arthropod Biology and Evolution: Molecules, Development, Morphology. (eds. Minelli, A., Boxshall, G. & Fusco, G.) New York, NY: Springer, pp. 417–439.
 Wendruff, 2020, p. 1.
 Wendruff, 2020, p. 1.
 Arenschield, 2020.
 Bechly, Günter. 2020
 The W.C. Fields quote can be found at https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/340982-if-you-can-t-dazzle-them-with-brilliance-baffle-them-with.
 Arenschield, 2020.
 Gould, Stephen. 1980. The Pandas Thumb. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 189.
 Bechly, Günter. 2020.
Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.