Let me just say upfront: the “Harm none” doctrine does not apply to poisonous arthropods. Especially not when they come into my house, crawl into my BED, and attack me. We immediately got the black light and found him. He’s now on to the next life.
We are now going out into the yard to hunt his relatives every night until all scorpions are gone. It will take constant vigilance. They’re sneaky and prolific little creatures, and we’ve been finding them in the backyard for years. But—my bed, my place of peace and refuge—that’s crossing a line that cannot be forgiven. This is war.
Because I wanted to know exactly what we’re up against, I researched scorpions for my blog this week. The result is these 13 fascinating facts about scorpions, the Arizona bark scorpion specifically.
The bark scorpion is found throughout Arizona, in the extreme southeastern portion of California near Arizona, and in southwestern New Mexico. In Mexico, the bark scorpion is found in Baja California Norte, Baja California Sur, and Sonora.
They reach a length of 3 inches and have a very thin tail only 1/16 inch wide; the body is yellow without stripes or patterns. The bark scorpion is the only common climbing scorpion and does not normally burrow but usually lives above ground under tree bark, in palm trees, and crevices of rocky cliffs or walls. Because it can climb block walls or stucco, this species is the scorpion most likely to enter dwellings.
2. Scorpions come out at night. Nocturnal creatures, scorpions find shelter during the day. They emerge to feed after dark and cease activity sometime before dawn.
4. Scorpions are attracted to moisture around pools, kitchen cabinets and sinks, and the bathroom/toilet. I lifted the soap dish from my kitchen sink last summer to clean it, and jumped half-way across the room when a scorpion scuttled from underneath the dish.
Scorpions also may be found in stacked lumber or bricks, firewood piles, cellars, and attics. It needs only a crack of 1/16 inch to enter a home.
The bark scorpion is also the only type in the world that can climb up walls and hide on the ceiling, the back of curtains and other vertical surfaces. Yes, I have found one on the ceiling—on the second story of my home, no less.
6. The bark scorpion is the most venomous scorpion in North America. Its venom can cause severe pain coupled with numbness, tingling, loss of breath, even dysfunction of the area stung, e.g, a hand or arm can be immobilized or experience convulsions. Due to the extreme pain induced, many victims describe sensations of electrical jolts as the venom moves around through the body. I can attest to both severe pain, including electrical jolts, and to a buttock and leg that jerked involuntarily for hours. The major effects normally wear off in 12-24 hours, although the sting site may still be sore.
The good news: a scorpion sting, even one from the bark scorpion, does not always require a trip to the emergency room. Keep the sting victim calm and relaxed, and don’t allow him/her to consume alcohol or sedatives, although ibuprofen for the pain is ok. Clean the sting site with soap and water, and then apply an ice pack. Capture the scorpion for identification if you can do so safely. Fortunately, antivenom is available to treat more severe reactions, such as difficulty breathing, vomiting or swelling of the throat.
Of course, the best course of action is to avoid being stung by a scorpion in the first place. Don’t leave shoes, boots, clothing items, or damp pool towels outdoors where scorpions can hide. Shake all clothing and shoes before putting them on. Wear gloves when working in the yard, and wear shoes outdoors, especially during evening hours. A portable black light (UV light) may be used to check for scorpions in and around the home.
7. An antivenom was developed for the bark scorpion at Arizona State University by Dr. Herbert L. Stahnke, and produced in quantities sufficient to treat individuals within the state of Arizona. While this antivenom was not FDA approved, it was quite effective. Production of this antivenom ceased by 2000. A Mexican company, Laboratorio Silanes, developed a new antivenom named Anascorp and received FDA approval in 2011; that is what is now used.
Photo by Joe Phillips 2009
9. Scorpions have long lifespans. In the wild, scorpions typically live from 2-10 years; in captivity they live up to 25 years!
10. Scorpions can survive almost anything. They can live for a full year without food. Because they have book lungs (like horseshoe crabs), they can stay submerged underwater for up to 48 hours and survive, so don’t brush them into your pool to kill them! They can live on only the moisture they obtain from their food, and they have extremely low metabolic rates and require only a tenth of the oxygen of most insects. Some species can be super cooled below the freezing point for weeks, yet return within hours to normal levels of activity. Conversely, desert scorpions can withstand temperatures of 47 °C (117 °F), which is several degrees higher than the lethal temperatures for other desert arthropods.
What that means for us humans is that scorpions don’t die out seasonally, they simply adjust their living quarters. If you’re fighting scorpions in your home, you may feel they are virtually indestructible, and with good reason. During US nuclear testing, scorpions, along with cockroaches and lizards, were found near ground zero with no recorded effects.
11. Scorpions eat just about anything they can subdue and consume. They prey on insects, spiders, and other arthropods, grubs, and earthworms. Larger scorpions can eat larger prey and are known to feed on small lizards and mice. A hungry mother scorpion will eat her own babies if resources are scarce.
Scorpion’s large pincers are studded with highly sensitive tactile hair, and the moment an insect touches these, it uses its chelae (pincers) to catch the prey. The prey is stung if it is relatively large, aggressive, or active. Otherwise the scorpion simply holds it and eats it alive. The chelicerae are toothed, and with these tools the scorpion chews the prey as quantities of digestive fluids secreted from the midgut pour over it. The victim’s soft parts are broken down, liquefied, and sucked into the scorpion’s stomach by a pumping action. The victim is gradually reduced to a ball of indigestible material, which is cast aside. Eating is a slow process, often taking many hours.
12. Scorpions are ancient organisms. If you traveled back in time 300 million years, you would encounter scorpions that look remarkably similar to their descendants living today. Fossil evidence shows scorpions from the Carboniferous period. The very first scorpions likely lived in the seas, and may even have had gills. By the Silurian period, 420 million years ago, they had
13. Scorpions are found throughout mythology and astronomy. In Babylonian mythology, the Scorpion Men were fearsome warriors. They were the children of Tiamat, the mother-dragon of the universe. Half-man and half-scorpion, they had human heads and arms and were scorpions from the waist down, with powerful tails that they used in combat. They also fought with their bows and arrows, which never missed. The Babylonians believed the Scorpion Men were the sacred guardians of their sun god, Shamash.
In a Greek legend, Orion was a follower of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. Eventually, Orion is said to have raped one of Artemis' female companions, and she decided to kill him for it. Artemis sent the Scorpion after Orion, which tracked him down and killed him with his sting. Orion was then given a place among the stars, far away from the Scorpion to keep him safe. You can still see the constellation of Scorpio rising just as Orion is setting on the western horizon!
In Greek mythology Scorpius represents a scorpion that was sent into the heavens after being killed by the great hunter Orion. The scorpion was sent to destroy Orion by Gaia the Goddess of Earth after the great hunter grew arrogant of his powers.
Following the scorpion’s placement amongst the stars another myth grew involving Phaeton, the mortal son of the Sun God Helios. Each day Helios rode his sun chariot around the Earth bringing light and warmth to the world. One day Helios allowed Phaeton to drive the chariot with disastrous consequences. Phaeton drove the chariot too high which froze the Earth. As he rose higher in the sky he neared Scorpius, the creature reacted by raising its sting, noticing that the scorpion was about to attack Phaeton steered the chariot back towards Earth. Unfortunately he got too close and as a result set fire to the land, turning parts of the Earth into desert.
Scorpius is a large and bright constellation which is mainly visible in the southern hemisphere. In the Northern hemisphere the constellation can be seen in July and August, low on the horizon.
I hope you don’t have any up-close-and-way-too-personal encounters with scorpions like I had. But if you do, you will now be prepared. Let me know if you learned anything new in this blog about the creepy critters that glow in the dark.
Next week I’ll move onto more enjoyable topics, sex, love and pagan rites of fertility—Beltane!
Until then, Blessed Be. And wear your flip-flops when venturing outside after dark!