The word scorpion conjures up images of dark, sinister creatures, ready to pounce at any moment, armed with a mean looking weapon in that rear end… they are often seen in fables and stories as evil doers – the work of the devil even – but do scorpions deserve this reputation?
Truth be told, of the 1,500 or so identified species, only about 1.5% of them could pose a potential risk to humans and even then, most would be likely to survive the experience. That said, scorpion venom can contain neurotoxins, which result in unpleasant symptoms such as pain and convulsions, so it’s best to steer clear.
The most potent scorpion is reportedly the aptly named Deathstalker scorpion, which inhabits deserts and scrublands from North Africa to the Middle East. Fortunately, an antivenom is available and most healthy adults would live to tell the tale of such an unfortunate encounter.
But before you decide that makes the case for the scorpion being classed as wicked – think again – the old Deathstalker isn’t all bad – in fact a study of its venom has shown that it can be used in both the treatment of brain tumours and the regulation of insulin in diabetes – so that’s one point in the scorpion’s favour!
Let’s consider their perceived aggressiveness – well it is, in fact, simply that – perceived. As with most other creatures in this world, scorpions simply want to go about their own business and if you don’t go bothering them (intentionally or otherwise) then they most likely won’t come bothering you!
In fact, it’s thought most scorpions have two kinds of sting – one for killing prey and the other (milder version) for either stunning or warning off brave, would-be predators (such as birds, lizards and snakes). This ability to control the amount of venom used means they will most likely go easy on you, so long as you take the hint!
Scorpions belong to the same family as our 8 legged chums, the spider and are often seen with an equal lack of enthusiasm by nervous individuals – like me! Unlike spiders, they have elongated bodies, formidable front pincers and that venomous sting in their tails.
As arthropods go, scorpions tend to be on the larger size, ranging from a modest 12mm (barely ½ inch) to a more fearsome near twenty times that size – 230mm (9 inches). They’re an ancient bunch too, having been around for over 400 million years, which might give you a clue that they’re tough – and how.
For starters, they’re good at retaining water, with special fat layers in their exoskeleton to keep moisture in. Although if the moisture happens to be on the outside, they can cope with that too, being able to survive up to a couple of days emerged in water. They have low metabolic rates too and only need a small amount of oxygen, making them capable of inhabiting inhospitable terrains like deserts. They’re reputed for even being able to survive freezing, with some varieties being capable of standing up to a sandblasting (although I don’t want to know how that was discovered!!) Not only that, but they boast greater longevity than their arthropod cousins, living anything from 2 to 25 years!
You have to take your hat off to them, they are great survivors and when it comes to lunchtime, scorpions will turn their claws to just about anything, generally not being fussy about the offerings on their menus.
Do scorpions really dance? Yep they sure do – it’s all part of their mating ritual – romantically named the promenade à deux (the walk of two – ah!) but it’s not just to show off their nifty footwork, it’s to allow the male to deposit his sperm package and guide the female over to collect it – although, the male better hop to it after that, because as with spiders, love seems to give female scorpions an appetite – for their mates!
Despite a fancy for post love snacking, scorpions are good mums, giving birth, unusually for their kind, to live young, which they give a ride around on their backs, until their first moult means they’re ready to strike out on their own.
Not only are they able to trip the light fantastic, they are fantastic at lighting up, as they are able to glow under UV light! (even ancient scorpion fossils still glow!) They have us stumped as to quite how they manage to shine – we’re still trying to figure it out. This glow in the dark trick makes light work (!) of spotting them in the dark – you just need a UV light – this technique has helped scientists discover up to 1,000 previously unknown species (scorpions being nocturnal) and I’m sure there are more out there yet to be spotted.
So, you see, there’s definitely more to scorpions than that rather macabre reputation – they’re long-lived, tough, critters, with a brighter side – not deliberately aggressive and mostly posing no threat to us – so it’s definitely time to see these incredible survivors in a new light!