Florida is host to many unique animal species, some of which are less than pleasant. The latter variety are mostly insects: fire ants, mosquitoes, love bugs and gnats, all of which are hard to imagine a use for.
Non-poisonous spiders are finally being recognized as an insect of purpose, and occasionally spared, but when a person comes across a scorpion, the reaction is rarely in favor of the arachnid. Despite its sinister appearance and painful sting, the scorpion is a beneficial bug!
Scorpions have eight legs, with the enlarged pedipalps for pinching. A pedipalp is a modified leg which, in the case of the scorpion, is a tool used for grasping prey.
Spiders also have pedipalps, but use them as a means for agile movement and locomotion. With eight legs each, both spiders and scorpions are in the Arachnida class, making them distant cousins in the world of bugs.
The fossil record indicates scorpions have existed for more than 400 million years, predating even the dinosaurs. Marine and terrestrial ancestors have been identified.
With the exception of Antarctica, there are scorpions on every continent. A few islands were originally documented as being free of scorpions, but this arthropod has been inadvertently introduced to most.
Contemporary scorpions have a stinger at the tip of their six-segmented tail. The stinger is connected to the venom gland which can inflict a painful sting to any unlucky creature which has the experience.
With an appearance between a lobster and a low-budget movie space alien, the scorpion is not frequently considered a beneficial resident.
Looks, in this case, are deceiving.
Scorpions are most active at night in their never-ending hunt for a meal. They feed on a wide variety insects, spiders, or similar small animal life which stumble into range of their claws and stinger.
Roaches, termites and other destructive insects which commonly operate in the dark are easy targets for the ambush tactics of scorpions.
The menu choices can be a reason to leave scorpions undisturbed in the wild.
Unfortunately, the hunting habits of scorpions may cause problems with the human population. These apex insect predators will enter homes, barns and other structures looking for the ideal ambush site which commonly ends up with the destruction of the scorpion.
The native scorpions have a relatively long life cycle in the wild. If good at hunting and evading sudden destruction from a variety of sources, they are capable of lasting three to five years.
Somewhat unusual for their environment, scorpions do not lay eggs to produce young. Their babies are born alive with the instinct to stay close to their mother.
After birth the young scorpions climb on the back of the mother who provides food and protection. They remain there until after their first molt, but not without risk.
Scorpions are cannibalistic if prey becomes scarce and will readily eat their own species. Females often eat their own young, which makes leaving home early a good option.
To learn more about Wakulla County’s scorpions, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or athttp://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco.