Prey-choice by grasshopper mice becomes a Data Nugget!

DN acronym

Mutations in the sodium channels of southern grasshopper mice (Onychomys torridus) make them fully resistant to components of Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus) venom that can be lethal to mammals, and almost fully resistant to the toxins that cause intense, burning pain (the mice feel a few seconds of discomfort before a protein in the scorpion’s own venom shuts down transmission of the pain signal to the mouse’s brain). DataNuggetLogoIn an attempt to understand the evolution of painful venoms (many species have them!), undergrads in the lab have been conducting a series of feeding experiments to determine whether southern grasshopper mice have a preference for feeding on a species of scorpion that is essentially painless (the stripe-tailed scorpion, Hoffmannius spinigerus) when presented simultaneously with the briefly painful AZ bark scorpion. While we don’t have the “smoking gun” answer yet, the preliminary results were considered sufficiently interesting and educational that the research was turned into a Data Nugget for helping middle-school and high-school students improve their ability to analyze and interpret real scientific data. The title of the nugget is “A Tail of Two Scorpions” and here is the link: