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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Kindergartner, Scorpions, & Stinkbugs—Oh My!

This time of year the weather cools down and the desert night invites exploration. We took advantage of a thin crescent moon combined with a hazy night sky to take my 5-year old son on his first scorpion hunt. I should mention our scorpion hunts are more of an unofficial survey, we’re just counting and sizing up how many individuals we find without collecting specimens. Living in the desert offers the perfect opportunity to scout scorpions which are easily seen using portable UV lights.

Searching for sand scorpions on the desert floor is an exiciting adventure for most, no matter what your initial feelings are at first, you end up having an interesting time. It is a favorite fall activity of mine and I couldn’t wait to get my son out there to experience the challenge and fun of a successful hunt. I couldn’t believe I had finally talked him into venturing out into the desert night with me and my cousin, and the scorpions did not disappoint!

At our first stop, just after dark we spotted an eloedes beetle (stink bug) and 13 sand scorpions in about 40 mintues, not bad. We decided to indentify the tiny scorpions as babies, kindergartners like my son, teenagers, a preschooler. They were all juveniles, so we decided to try our luck at another, nearby location.

We hit the jackpot at our second stop. Two more eloedes beetles! Yes, but oh the scorpions! We began to lose count at 25 scorpions in only about 30 minutes. We found babies, sub-adults and, just as we decided to head back to the car…the biggies—well big for sand scorpions (photos below). My son was getting tired, and my cousin theorized that more were coming out the later it got, including the big guys. We agreed that next time we should begin our hunt an hour or so after dark to test that theory :)

No matter their age or size, scorpion morphology stays the same.
Compare this tiny, half inch baby scorpion...
A "teenager" about one inch in length...
An adult sand scorpion about 2 inches in length. 2 1/2" to 3" with its "tail" flat.

My son was into it during our first stop, it was like a treasure hunt to him, but the tiny scorpions (or little lobsters as he first called them), weren’t impressing him. Especially since they stayed perfectly still. Maybe he was expecting a different kind of treasure. He even questioned if they were real. The adventure began to wear off for him along with his patience. However, he did get excited when he spotted the scorpions first and also when we found two large scorpions during our second stop :) I’m glad I left the whole natural history of the scorpion schpiel for another time. *wink*

Later, before bedtime I asked him if he had fun and he said, yep he really did (sans the stink bugs of which he didn’t like). YAY! I cheered inside, maybe just maybe he will be my scorpion-hunting buddy.

Thinking about giving scorpion hunting a try? READ THESE FIVE TIPS! First, read up on scorpions in your area: what species, if any, do you have in your area and what terrain you’re most likely to find them; how venomous are they? Avoid getting stung—do not harass, handle, touch, collect, or bother the scorpions you find.

Second, know your search area, scout it out in daylight first! Be very familiar with local hazards like cactus, snakes (we do not do this activity in the summer months), and man made hazards like junk piles, abandon wells/mines, temporary shelters, roads, etc.

Third, always wear closed in shoes and check your shoes and pants with the UV lights to make sure you don’t have any “hitchhikers.”

Fourth, skip the full and near full moon nights. Great for seeing your way through the desert night, but not for scorpions who seem to take cover, away from such a bright light (easier for predators to spy them). Choose the new moon or similar dark moon nights.

And finally, you need a UV light (black light). Flashlights are recommended but don’t use both simultaneously and do not rely on spotting scorpions with a white light, they are nearly impossible to see for most. Manuever your path slowly, using the black light only. Portable black lights can be found at some hobby stores, gem and mineral stores, auto accessory stores, and on line. Don’t forget the batteries.

Have fun and be safe!

1 comment:

  1. What a precious activity....I so enjoyed those hunts with you and can't wait to join in with Jeffery now!