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Backyard Scorpions: We've got some of the stingers in these parts, but don't worry 

click to enlarge natural-world_gianthairyscorpion.jpg

This may be the year of the scorpion. They seem to be popping up everywhere around Central Oregon - bedrooms, kitchens, garages, backyards, woodpiles and gardens. The concerned mother who found one in her children's bedroom and brought it to me to identify is typical of how most people react when they encounter scorpions and spiders: innate fear that it will harm them or their family.

It's interesting that the emotionally charged mom, who was scared to death of the scorpion, drove to my house rapidly in her car. I cannot find any record of anyone being killed directly by a scorpion in Oregon, yet hundreds die in motor-vehicle crashes annually.

To make everyone feel better and relax somewhat (those who are curious and those who are scared to death), the most abundant scorpion found throughout Central Oregon is the harmless northern scorpion, Paruroctonus boreus, a relative of the innocuous mordant scorpion.

"Harmless" means that under normal situations, the venom (not "poison") administered by this scorpion is less painful (viral) than a bee sting and will not cause any problems to a healthy child, adult or senior citizen. If any venom is injected, it will first be scary, and then may sting a little and perhaps turn red at the site of the injury.

Scorpions do not "bite" to administer their venom. Although they do have formidable-looking "jaws" (pincers, actually, which they use to hold their prey), it is the telson on the end of their "tail" that administers venom to enemies and prey.

Now, there is a little greenish scorpion, centruroides, found in parts of the Southwest and Texas that can give you a bad day if it stings you. It does not live in the Northwest, and if it turns up, it is purely by accident, having been hauled here by someone. The best advice I can think of to prevent injury from this scorpion is stay away from Texas.

(Besides, I've always thought that the best place to be in Texas is smack-dab-in-the-middle. That way - no matter which way you're movin' - you're leavin'.)

For anyone who is more curious than fearful of scorpions, the rule of thumb is: "The bigger the pincers, the less menacing the venom." Those with powerful venom do not need large pincers to catch prey or ward off enemies, they just smack them with their powerful toxin - the enemy runs off to die, or to the doctor's office or a meal is on the plate.

For those who want to know what scorpions they have in their domicile, they can be scientifically "keyed out" by the shape of the breastplate and the number of spurs between the last two abdominal segments. There are more than 70 species common to North America, and 1,500 to 2,000 known worldwide, which should keep one busy for a few days.

If you look at Ordovician fossils of the huge segmented eurypterids, you will note a similarity to today's scorpions. Further along in the fossil record (of the Pennsylvanian Period) you will find an arachnid that resembles both eurypterid and scorpion, suggesting that the scorpion design has been on our good Earth for at least 400 million years, which means they are considerably older than I am, and I'm ancient.

It is the fact that scorpions kill and eat spiders - as well as compete with them for food and space - that should be good news to people who are fearful of spiders. There may even be a point where non-lethal scorpions keep very lethal black widows out of one's home.

Most scorpions are nocturnal, have two eyes in the center of the cephalothorax (head and thorax combined) and between two and five eyes on each side, but some are blind, like the cave dwellers. Females give birth to living young that resemble tiny adults and they ride on the back of the female until they molt for the first time. Then the young become solitary and catch their own prey, (like the ones the Stringer family and I found under a carpet out near Brothers the other day).

In ancient times, the scorpion's sting was feared almost as much as the lion's bite and that of vipers, which may be why some people go bananas when they see one today. So revered was the scorpion that it was given a place in the zodiac.

Why are so many scorpion scares taking place around town? It may be there was a bumper crop a few years back and we're seeing the "surplus" wandering around looking for unoccupied territory. Or it may be that time of year when males are out wandering around looking for unattached females - unlike homo- sapiens who can be found doing that any time of the year.

Whatever the reasons behind this sudden surge of scorpions, it sure prevents boredom. Oh! The big guy pictured above? They live way out in the Owhyee country, and this is the time of year they are best seen running around, usually at night, right after thunderstorms, perhaps also looking for unattached females.

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