Scorpions: Armed and Armored Arachnids
With pincers ever poised for combat, and an exoskeleton composed of the same material as human fingernails; the scorpion is the spiked-wheeled tank of the insect and arachnid world. Its intimidating appearance makes for a powerful and imposing symbol; signifying evil and malicious intent in some cultures; whilst others portray it as a stalwart guardian standing watch over royalty.
But as far as nature is concerned, the scorpion is simply the ultimate survivor; its aggressive demeanour a reflection of the hostile environments in which it thrives.
Widely assumed to be a desert-dwelling creature, in truth the scorpion is built to endure a variety of habitats. They can alter their own metabolic rate, to the extent that they would be able to go an entire year without food if need be; and they can survive being frozen overnight, with scorpions that have been placed in the deep freeze and removed the next morning simply carrying on their merry way once the ice has melted.
If there's one thing that could probably foil their plans, it would be a lack of soil. Scorpions are nocturnal, and extremely sensitive to light; so they prefer to burrow underground or hide under rocks during the day. As such, they may not be able to survive in areas with heavy vegetation or permafrost.
Their vision may be limited, but they have a powerful sense of smell, and are extremely alert to any vibrations in their surroundings. They also have the ability to sense light with their tails, which helps them determine which areas they should avoid.
History and Habitat
Scorpions - like spiders and ticks - form part of the arachnid family. The earliest evidence of their existence dates back at least 430 million years, and the oldest known scorpions to inhabit Gondwana – one of the two super-continents formed when Pangaea split around 200 million years ago - are the oldest known Gondwanan land-dwelling animals.
Currently scorpions are present on every landmass in the world, excluding Antarctica. In certain regions, they were accidentally introduced through trade as opposed to being endemic; such as the Isle of Sheppey in the United Kingdom, where a small population of scorpions is believed to have arrived with fruit imports from Africa in the 1860's. This makes it the northernmost region where scorpions occur in the wild, though fortunately this particular species is completely harmless to humans.
Despite their solitary nature, most scorpion species reproduce sexually. They are even associated with sexuality in some cultures, due to their elaborate courtship ritual in which the male and female scorpion dance around each other whilst interlocking their pincers.
The romance appears to dissipate quite quickly however, as female scorpions have a tendency to eat the male if he sticks around too long after the mating process is complete. They've also been known to eat their young on occasion, though the reason for this remains uncertain. It may be to prevent overpopulation of scorpions in an area.
In most cases, the female scorpion is actually quite protective over its litter, carrying them around on its back until they have undergone their first molt. But once ready to venture out into the wild, each member of the litter will go their own separate way
The average life expectancy of a scorpion in the wild is about two to 10 years, though in captivity some have been known to live as long as 25 years.
Sting in the Tail
Though all scorpions are venomous, only 25 of 1,500 known species are actually dangerous to humans; and even they are unlikely to be fatal to a healthy adult. Elderly and children are most at risk.
Potentially lethal species include the Arizona Bark Scorpion, the Deathstalker (found in North Africa and the Middle East), and the Indian Red Scorpion.
Interestingly, it's been discovered that the venom of the Arizona Bark Scorpion - though lethal against insects, snakes and even birds - has no such effect on the grasshopper mouse. In fact, the venom actually functions as an effective painkiller; making the rodent one of the few creatures that will gladly make a meal out of an angry scorpion.
They're not the only ones to find hidden benefits in scorpion venom. Traditional Chinese medicine has long utilized dried scorpion powder as an antidote for toxins, and scientists have experimented with scorpion venom as a means for treating brain tumours. It's believed the venom could be used to paralyse cancerous cells and halt their growth, without harming the healthy cells.
So the scorpion's incredible resilience is reflected in the power of its venom, which has the capacity to both harm and heal.