Friday, September 7, 2018

Famous Faces of the Desert - Scorpions

There has been a scorpion bonanza here in our ARBICO offices lately. A couple weeks ago, I was in the bathroom and looked down and there was a lovely orange scorpion with his stinger raised right beside my foot. My critter-loving colleagues quickly re-homed it outside. The other day, near the same part of the building, another colleague found a little bitty one (maybe an inch or so long) that was missing a pincer but still very much alive. On the same day as that incident, another co-worker brought in a (deceased) sample of the type of scorpion that is currently infesting her home. Clearly, these arachnids are very common in our part of the world.

Scorpions are a desert icon and, like the saguaro I wrote about in my last blog, they are misunderstood. For one thing, they are hardly exclusive to the desert; they are found in almost every terrestrial habitat on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. Not only are they everywhere, they have been here for a very long time. These ancient arthropods can trace their ancestry back more than 400,000,000 years. Evolution does not appear to have found a reason to change the design of a scorpion. Aside from being larger, those Paleozoic scorpions have the same basic anatomical details as the modern version.

People generally react with fear when they come across a scorpion; but this is a baseless fear for most Americans. Of the approximately 100 species found in the US, only a handful have venom that is harmful to humans. Of these, the most venomous scorpion in North America is the Arizona Bark Scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatusIf bitten, highly effective antivenoms are readily available. Nevertheless, it pays to keep children, pets and the elderly protected from this scorpion.

Rather than just killing prey and hurting people, it appears that scorpion venom can greatly help people. It is currently being used in medical research and has shown to have benefits in fighting cancer. As this becomes more of a reality, it should leave us with a new appreciation for the humble scorpion.

If you are still not able to see scorpions as anything but dangerous creatures, consider the fact that scorpions (unlike most other invertebrates) are surprisingly attentive and tender mothers.

Kenyan scorpion mother with babies. Photo by Ivan Zuzmin
They give birth to live offspring (as many as 100), which they then arrange carefully and carry around on their backs. Some species spend up to two years caring for their young, much longer than many other creatures.

Photo by Kenton Elliott
One of the coolest things about scorpions is that they fluoresce under ultraviolet light. Scientists believe that there is something in their epidermis that causes this. If you take a black light out on nice dark night, you will be able to see the world of the scorpion as it lights up.There are many more out there than most people would believe and they are living their lives nocturnally all around us.

Scientists consider scorpions to be excellent bio-indicators. Their specie's durability and longevity as well as their habitat and range specificity provides researchers with valuable baseline information related to changes in their environment. Unfortunately, like too many other species, they are losing space to habitat degradation.

 Even though scorpions have great potential in medicine and are important bio-indicators, there are few scorpion experts out there. The shortage is great enough that the American Museum of Natural History is actively encouraging and recruiting new researchers.

While there aren’t as many scorpion scientists as we need, there are some out there doing important work. And sometimes this new information is as disgusting as it is interesting. Scientists at the National University of Cordoba in Argentina have discovered that certain scorpion species will drop their tail when threatened (like a lizard does). Unfortunately for them, their anus is located on the part of the tail that is dropped. Which means they fill with feces and die. National Geographic has all the scatological details here

We encourage everyone to refrain from killing scorpions simply because they exist. Instead, keep your yard clear of hiding places for them (think potted plants, firewood, boxes, crates) and close up any holes or cracks that offer access into your house. If you simply must exterminate them, bear in mind that they are not easily controlled. You can use Diatomaceous Earth as a barrier or spray  spray EcoPCO®AR-X Multi-Purpose Insecticide.

Submitted by Pam

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