Sunday 22 May 2011


Image via Wikipedia
You have got to love scorpions, at least somehow, somewhere, sort of, in a sense. They look so unique and dignified, such elegance and grace; nothing else looks quite like the scorpion (not quite...). They appear ever prepared for only the most genteel of dances, the most dignified of entertainments. A night at an aristocratic ball with the best of society, perhaps. Or a lavish yet refined feast with only the most sophisticated of company, full of elevated discussion on the most cultivated of matters. Port and cigars at the gentlemen's club? What's that you say? Nocturnal walks in the countryside? That's nice! To poison and butcher wild animals so that you can suck out their insides?

That sounds... great.

Blood sports it is, then. Scorpions are, of course, brutal killers one and all. Those pedipalps are not arms with which to lovingly embrace a dancing partner. They are instead deadly claws with which to grapple and grasp prey. The tail is not a carefully poised fascinator for a touch of flamboyance. It is instead a hypodermic barb used to inject paralyzing or straight out lethal, fast acting toxins to ensure prey quickly succumbs. Something of a femme fatale perhaps, or whatever the male equivalent is. A bastard?

There are going on 2,000 species of scorpion. The smallest ones can be less than 1 cm long and will eat suitably tiny insects and such. The largest ones are over 20 cm long and could approach an entire foot in length. Since scorpions are opportunistic predators these big guys could even munch on small lizards and rodents. They don't much use their eyes to do this, despite having up to 12 of them, rather they use hairs all over their body and underside to feel vibrations and chemicals. Once something tasty is discovered, some scorpions have huge, powerful pincers to catch and crush, while others will make much more use of their venom so that the claws are used mainly to hold their prey in place. After this, little pincer-like mouthparts are used like a knife and fork to tear off manageable bits of food. They then vomit up digestive juices from their guts to liquefy the flesh so they can slurp it up like a broth. I don't think this would go down well at the lavish yet refined feast with only the most sophisticated of company.

Image via Wikipedia
Their meals actually can be quite lavish, though. Scorpions can eat quite a lot in one sitting, keeping some stored in their body for future use. They can also slow their metabolic rate when times get tough and quickly speed up when an opportunity to eat rears its poor, innocent head. It all adds up to mean that scorpions can go a long time without food, some of them over a year! It also means that many can survive freezing cold, desert heat and even submersion in water for a time. This has meant that they have been able to conquer a huge amount of land on Earth; from deserts and jungles to caves and 12,000 feet (3,660 m) up the Himalayas, scorpions can be found on every continent except Antarctica. What's more, they've been doing it for an extraordinarily long time. The earliest scorpion fossils date back to some 430 million years ago. Back then they lived on the ocean floor alongside their relatives the sea scorpions, who are now all extinct. Perhaps getting onto dry land was a really good idea?

But it's not all crushing and stinging and killing. Most of it is, but not all. For one thing, of all these scorpions only about 25 of them are capable of killing humans. I'm sure you'll agree that that's very thoughtful of them.

Another remarkable fact is that lady scorpions and gentleman scorpions actually DO dance with each other! It's all sooooo romantic! Or about as romantic as you can expect an arachnid to be. It's all to do with courtship, naturally enough. The male uses his claws to grab his partner by the claws, before leading her around to find a suitable surface to drop the spermatophore that the female can pick up afterwards. Lovely! It's even called the promenade à deux, which is Fench, which means it's either all la-di-da or a bit rude. Unless your French (I don't think Britain has ever really gotten over Napoleon, William the Conqueror or all the others). Anyway, it's either that or she is entirely vicious and attempts to sting and eat him so he holds her at arms length, stings her with his much longer tail just enough for her to not be quite such a threat to his life and then drags her around until he finds a good place to mate. Hmm... slightly different. In any case, when he grabs her by the mouthparts with his own mouthparts, I think it's definitely time for them to get a room.

Image via Wikipedia
The gestation period of scorpions is remarkably long, anything between 2 months and well over a year. When the time is right, the female will give birth to live young. Her litter is usually about 8 young, delightfully called scorplings, but it can also be much bigger. These youngsters are defenceless and can't even regulate their own moisture levels, so they immediately jump on their mother's back. She will protect them at least until their first moult and perhaps even longer, after which they will be just about big enough and strong enough to fend for themselves.

Image via Wikipedia
At this young age they will lack one of the more bizarre skills of their parents: scorpions are fluorescent, glowing in the dark when exposed to ultraviolet light. It's pretty weird and it's not known why they do this, they themselves don't appear to notice when it's happening and don't act differently when UV light is shining on them. Perhaps they're being really blasé about it? Maybe they're like "what? Oh that. Yeh, I do that sometimes. I don't really think about it. It's just something I do, you know?"

Cool, cruel and dangerous to know. But you got to love 'em. At least a little!


 I don't know how long this is going to last, but a Google images search of "femme fatale" reveals that the internet is pretty adamant about the fact that Britney Spears has an album out. Just for your information in case you didn't know!


TexWisGirl said...

ha ha.

we have scorpions at our place here in Texas. thankfully, they're the little brown guys that are an inch or two long. they still sting like the buggars tho if you get hit! they come out at night so i keep a flyswatter handy. i always feel guilty when it's a momma carrying babies...

Joseph JG said...

"i always feel guilty when it's a momma carrying babies..."

Ha! So you should!

We didn't have scorpions here in the UK, but apparently a bunch of them got shipped over in the 1860s. They now live in south-east England but they haven't been able to spread much.

Crunchy said...

I knew it, Britney Spears is a scorpion.

Joseph JG said...

Yes! That seems by far the most likely conclusion.