Scorpions are some of the original land animals
Land of Four Seasons
September 30, 2023
One of the oldest still extant creatures on Earth is the intimidating-looking scorpion, those ancient arachnids who have somehow managed to persist through endless catastrophes and unimaginable changes to living conditions on our planet.
Scorpions have been found throughout the fossil record, dating back an amazing 420 million years or more, which is long before the first trees appeared around 380 million years ago. Scorpions are among the first animals who adapted to life on land, and there are fossils of a primordial marine scorpion that was more than three feet long.
So scorpions have been around a lo-o-o-o-ng time, and they're still with us: my brother found a baby one last week in Tehachapi while moving some old lumber.
You typically do have to move something to encounter a scorpion, because they are primarily nocturnal and most species avoid being exposed to direct sunlight. Scorpions have multiple eyes, but they are simple structures and can generally detect only movement, and distinguish between light and dark. Scorpions are quite sedentary and travel little, preferring to stay in the same area night after night, waiting for some prey to happen by.
Scorpions are mostly associated with deserts, though some of the world's more than 1,500 species of scorpions are also found in the tropics and non-desert areas. Many scorpion species are xerocoles, which is a term used to describe animals that are adapted to life in deserts.
Scorpions can be found in many different parts of the Tehachapi Mountains. They are certainly where it is more arid, like in Sand Canyon, but a friend found one inside her home in Hart Flat recently, and I've seen them in Bear Valley as well.
I've also gone out at night with a battery-powered blacklight (ultraviolet light) and found a number of scorpions by overturning rocks in drier areas of the Tehachapi Valley. Scorpions fluoresce in a blacklight, glowing faintly greenish-yellow, so they are easier to see.
While there are species of scorpions whose venom can be highly toxic, most scorpions look far more dangerous than they actually are, and they pose little threat to humans. There are believed to be about 54 species of scorpions in California, and only the Bark Scorpions (Centruroides sculpturatus), found in extreme southeastern California near the Arizona border, are potentially lethal. 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. However, scorpions often just use their claws to catch prey, and use their venomous stinger primarily for their defense instead of for hunting, since it takes a lot of body energy to produce venom.
If scorpions are encountered during the day, it is usually a chance occurrence because 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 go on 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.
Scorpions are found throughout the Tehachapi area, but very seldom sting anyone. Unlike creatures like mosquitoes or ticks, which deliberately bite and feed on people's blood, the ancient scorpions cannot benefit in any way from stinging a human, and they do so only in their own defense.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond is a fourth generation Kern County resident who has photographed and written about the Tehachapi Mountains for 38 years. He lives on a farm his family started in 1921, and is a speaker of Nuwä, the Tehachapi Indian language. He can be reached at email@example.com.