Amazing Arachnids

George the scorpion on Garnet Hill.

George the scorpion on Garnet Hill.

I think I’ve finally moved on from my greatest fear. For years I’ve been terrified of the open ocean more than anything else in the world.  I can safely say, however, that this isn’t my greatest fear anymore. Not because I’ve overcome it, oh no. Thanks to a few friends and a black light in the desert, I have a new one… glow-in-the-dark scorpions. You read that right, scorpions that glow a creepy blue-green under UV light. It’s terrifyingly fascinating. I learned about this while walking along train tracks near Ely, NV at night, where we were able to spot scorpions enjoying the residual heat of the rails with the help of a black light flashlight. They glow extremely brightly which was lucky (lucky?) for us since among the dozens of scorpions we watched, one grabbed and furiously attacked a moth that was attracted by our light, something I never thought I’d see outside of Animal Planet… Crikey!

Paruroctonus glowing under black light.

Paruroctonus glowing under black light.

Scorpions glow under ultraviolet light thanks to two molecules in their cuticle: β-carboline and 4-methyl-7-hydroxycoumarin. But what good is it to have skin that glows in a certain kind of light if you’re a nocturnal ambush predator? It’s possible, while unlikely, that the light attracts its arthropod prey like a bug light. It could also be a vestigial feature that once served a purpose for its diurnal ancestors. It’s possible that there simply is no function for this fluorescence. Regardless of its use, it’s still really cool.

Make sure you wear closed toe shoes!

Tim

scorpion

Scorpion Fluorescence and Reaction to Light (Gaffin et al.) 

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