There are some creatures that are so fearsome-looking that their appearance instantly inspires a negative reaction in most people. Like scorpions, for example.
These ancient arachnids with the crab-like front claws and segmented tail equipped with a stinger have inspired fear among humans for thousands of years. Scorpions are among the oldest existing creatures, with fossil records dating back 430 million years.
While there are species of scorpions whose venom can be highly toxic, most scorpions look far more dangerous than they are, and pose little threat to humans. Of the 70 species of scorpions found in North America, only one, the Bark Scorpion (Centruroides exilicauda) has a potentially lethal sting. There are believed to be 54 species of scorpions in California.
Fortunately for us, Bark Scorpions are only found in extreme southeastern California near the Arizona border, but are much more common in Arizona and Mexico. There are several species of scorpions found in the Tehachapi Mountains, but none are considered to be dangerous. Scary-looking, but not a cause for concern.
As most people know, the significant part of a scorpion's arsenal is not its front claws, which makes them look like tiny lobsters, but rather the stinger-tipped venom gland mounted on the end of the segmented tail.
This venom is injected into spiders, insects and other scorpion prey, where it starts working immediately to immobilize the intended dinner guest. Bigger scorpions can occasionally take vertebrate prey, such as small lizards or mice.
Though scorpions are fairly widespread throughout the Tehachapi area, they are not often seen by most people because they are exclusively nocturnal and generally remain hidden during the day. Scorpions are also quite sedentary and travel little, preferring to stay in the same area night after night waiting for some prey to happen by.
If they are encountered during the day, it is usually a chance occurrence when the scorpion was inadvertently disturbed. Such was the case more than 50 years ago in Cameron Canyon when Dae Lantz Jr. stepped from his father's truck and was stung near his bare heel by a small scorpion. He may have even stepped on it, not realizing it was there, and was stung in response.
Though Lantz was a youngster at the time, he said the sting wasn't especially painful and was reminiscent of a bee sting. He suffered no ill effects from the encounter.
Interestingly, male and female scorpions engage in a kind of mating dance that may last for many hours. Gestation lasts for several months to as long as a year and half, depending upon the species. Female scorpions give birth to live young, who climb on their mother's back after they emerge — baby scorpions are unable to survive without their mother, since they rely on her to regulate their moisture levels and protect them from predators. The baby scorpions, known as scorplings, must remain on their mother's back until they molt at least once. Like other creatures with rigid body armor, scorpions have to emerge from their old exoskeleton and form a new one in order to grow.
Although scorpions are predators, they are also preyed upon by a number of larger creatures. Because they are out at night, scorpions often serve as prey for two of our most voracious nocturnal predators: bats and owls. Both types of flying hunters seem to be adept at consuming scorpions without getting stung.
My friend Linda Smith contacted me years ago because she was puzzled at finding scorpion body parts outside the front door of her home in White Oak Knolls. She was finding no intact specimens, just claws, tail segments with stinger, etc.
It turned out that the source of this macabre collection was a bat who was using the Smiths' front porch as a nighttime roost to dissect and dine on scorpions that it had caught.
Entomologists often use black lights or other sources of ultraviolet light to find scorpions at night, since all scorpions fluoresce a bright greenish yellow. A previously empty-looking patch of arid, rocky ground will glow faintly here and there at night under a black light as well-camouflaged scorpions shine like pedestrian fireflies.
Scorpions are found throughout the Tehachapi area, including the mountains, but very seldom sting people and are generally easy to avoid.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.