Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Grand Canyon Scorpion

A few years back, I was camping at the Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the Grand Canyon across the creek from Phantom Ranch. After dinner, it gets dark quickly. There’s not much to do other than read, socialize and look at the stars, which are certainly valid pastimes. One night, my friend and guide who happened to be the leading authority on the Grand Canyon, suggested a new evening activity. A scorpion hunt! Armed with a UV-flashlight that causes the scorpion’s exoskeleton to fluoresce, this is what we found.


Scorpions are predatory animals classified as arthropods, which includes insects, spiders and even crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs. Scorpions are actually closer related to spiders and ticks than to butterflies and ants. What defines an arthropod? All arthropods have paired, jointed-legs, jointed bodies and a hard outer protective armor called an exoskeleton. In contrast, our skeleton (although it’s bony) is on the inside of our bodies. On the front-end, scorpions have a pair of grasping claws (called pedipalps), and on the back-end, a curved, narrow tail with a venomous stinger (called a telson) at the end. Pleasant creatures they are.

Though the scorpion has a fearsome reputation as being venomous, only 25 species have venom capable of killing a human being (which is not much comfort when you encounter one in your tent). There hasn’t been one documented death from a scorpion sting in the U.S. for more than 30 years, although you could be allergic to the venom with life-threatening side effects (which is a whole different problem). The stinger, however, does carry a neurotoxin that is extremely painful when injected. One park ranger that I met at Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon had been stung a dozen times, and every time he was in bed asleep.

The Grand Canyon has three varieties of scorpion. The fellow in the photo is a Centruroides exilicauda or bark scorpion.

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