Runs like the devil, stings like a bee

By Ted Smith

Once, when my children were half grown, we lived in what I would call a homemade house. It was made plain, without fancy trim. The windows and doors were framed in 1x6s, and nothing was exactly straight or plumb.

The most curious thing was the center wall that held the fireplace. Apparently it was one of the last things constructed because if it had been a straight wall, it would have split the front door. So just past the fireplace the wall swerved to the left. Let’s say it had a lot of character. And it was cheap.

One evening as we were watching the television, which was to the left of the fireplace, we saw a little brown critter come out through a small hole beside it and quickly scoot across the floor toward us. It was a Southern devil scorpion.

One of the things I love about my children is that they can sometimes be so cool. Nobody panicked, or screamed. Everybody just lifted their feet off the floor, and the little devil ran under the couch. While we lived there, the same event transpired several times. Funny, but we never saw them go back into the small hole by the fireplace.

No one got stung, either, not that it would have been a big deal. The sting of the Southern devil scorpion is not anywhere near fatal. In fact, it is said to be like a bee sting. And unless the stingee is allergic, the sharp pain begins to fade almost immediately and within 30 minutes all symptoms are gone. At least, so they say. I’ve never been stung by a scorpion and I’ll take their word for it.

Perhaps because of their lethal looking stinger, there are many myths surrounding scorpions. Like similar myths about snakes and spiders, very few scorpions have venom strong enough to kill humans – 25 species out of 1500 – and even then the victims are usually young children, old people, people in poor health, and people who are allergic to the venom. Only two species of scorpions are a threat to a normal healthy adult, the Brazilian yellow scorpion (Tityus serrulatus) and the Israeli deathstalker (Leiurus quinquestriatus).

Of the 100 scorpion species found in the U. S., only one, the Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus), is said to be potentially fatal, but no deaths from scorpion stings have been recorded in the U.S. in decades according to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service. Less than 5 percent of scorpion stings are said to require any medical attention at all.

Scorpions, like every other living thing on this planet, have a role to play in the environment. In this case they are both predator and prey in the circle of life. They are often eaten by other scorpions, birds, lizards, and spiders, and eat insects and other small invertebrates.

But scorpions are also canaries in a coal mine when it comes to the environment. If the scorpion population declines, it is usually an indication of environmental degradation. Their venoms are also useful in medical research because some of them have antibiotic and anti cancer properties.

This particular specimen might be a pregnant female. It looks like it anyway, but she is not much over one inch long so she may still be an instar. Scorpions give birth to live young and carry them on their backs until they are able to hunt on their own.

The Southern devil scorpion (Vaejovis carolinianus) is one of 27 species in the genus and is the only one native to the Southeast. It is also known as the plain Eastern atripeless acorpion and the Southern stripeless scorpion, and is sometimes called a “stinging lizard.”

Carolinianus means it was first discovered by Western botanists in the Carolinas. It is unclear from the information I have gathered on the web just how aggressive scorpions are. It may be that most or nearly all of them take a run first, fight if necessary approach. That is true of the Southern devil. Which means the genus name is ironic; Vaejovis means very jovial.

Who says taxonomists don’t have a sense of humor?