Mad About Science:

Scorpions

By Brenden Bobby
Reader Columnist

If you’re just now realizing that we’ve got a strange fascination with the creepy-crawly …  I’d like to rock you like a hurricane!

We love outlandish creepy critters stuffed full of venom and other things suited for delivering us swiftly from this mortal coil.

We’re going to be talking about scorpions, today. Unless you have one in a terrarium, you aren’t going to see them around here. We just don’t have the type of habitat they, or their prey, thrive in.

How will you do an article on scorpions? Aren’t all scorpions the same?

No!

We’re going to flash to the past real quick. We’re going back further than we have in almost all of our biological showcases, before. We’re going back 467 million years to look at some of the earliest scorpion fossils on record. That’s 402 million years before the Dwayne Johnson fell from the sky and brought an end to all dinosaurs. I bet they couldn’t smell what he was cooking (spoiler alert: It was Dinosaur Flesh).

Eurypterid, a sea scorpion wasn’t exactly like scorpions we know today, but it is one of their earliest ancestors, perhaps also an early relative of crabs and other crustaceans. These sea scorpions could grow up to 8.5 feet. That’s longer than some smart cars.

We think they may have been amphibious like horseshoe crabs, their closest living descendant, which means they could climb out of the water and onto land. We don’t really know what they ate, because, quite honestly, we don’t really know a whole lot about what was going on 467 million years ago. They were probably bottom-feeders like modern crabs, stuffing their faces with everything from carrion to algae to other creatures’ poo.

Back to the present, scorpions have gotten a lot smaller. You probably think of those big black scorpions you find in pet stores—these are named “Emperor Scorpions.” They’re big and scary, but surprisingly not very venomous. Their pinch and their sting sure can hurt, though! People compare the Emperor Scorpion’s sting to be similar to a typical bee sting, though some people may be specifically allergic to them.

Did you know that if you shine a blacklight on them, they will naturally illuminate with a cool cyan color? Almost all scorpions will.

These are the most common type of scorpion to be kept as a pet at home, mostly because they’re so incredibly docile, easy to handle and rarely sting. All fairly important attributes for a nonlethal pet.

In the world of Scorpions, bigger doesn’t always mean deadlier. It’s commonly believed that you need to worry about the venom from smaller scorpions much more than their larger cousins.

Take for example the Bark Scorpion, found most often in the American Southwest. Most of our snowbirds are probably familiar with this little guy, as he’s most often found in Arizona. While it’s only about three inches long, it’s the most venomous scorpion in North America. Although it’s not typically fatal, it can knock you on your rear for up to three days after a sting, which can cause muscle spasms, shaking and vomiting.

If you’re afraid about stepping on one in the dark, carry a blacklight with you. They’ll light up like a Christmas tree. They are far from endangered, and considered to be hazardous, though you may want to think twice about smashing them with your feet, unless you like crippling pain.

Lucky for us, antivenom is available for these little guys!

Some scorpions don’t sting at all. Heck, some of them aren’t even called scorpions, though they’re more closely related to them than spiders.

Enter: The Camel Spider. If you know any veterans from the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, I’m sure they’d be glad to tell you some hilarious stories about these terrifying monstrosities. Look up “Camel Spider” on Google. Go ahead, I dare you.

They get up to be about six inches, which is huge for an arachnid no matter how you slice it. They’re also very fast, able to move up to 10 mph. They’re a fleshy-beige color with massive dark mandibles and small dark eyes. These things are so terrifying that they may have made it into the Old Testament as a plague of “mice” that harassed the Philistines.

Nooooo thank you!

Luckily for us, they’re exclusively a desert species. The only way you’re going to find one stateside is if you have a weird collector friend, or if someone you know happened to smuggle a bunch into the country, somehow. Even then, they aren’t going to survive in our weather for very long, even in the middle of summer. While we may shriek and scream at the sight of a large arachnid, most birds in our area are firing up their little bird-grills and tossing on an apron for a good ol’ fashioned summer barbecue.

Speaking of scorpion barbecues, did you know that in parts of East Asia and the Pacific Islands, scorpions are considered a delicacy? They impale them, clip the tip from the tail and offer them up as a crunchy snack. Contrary to what James Spader may have told us, scorpions don’t really taste like chicken. They’re described as being crunchy and bitter, which isn’t too surprising.

Have a pet scorpion? You should get a picture and show the Reader! I’m sure Ben is collecting a small ark of pet animal photos, and the folks of Sandpoint are always eager to see fun and unique pets.

It doesn’t get more unique than six legs and set of pincers! Trust me, I know a thing or two about unique pets.

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