Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tailless Whip Scorpion

Last night we had an unusual visitor on our front patio: a tailless whip scorpion (Paraphrynus mexicanus). These long-legged relatives of spiders and scorpions are actually quite common in the Sonoran Desert, but they are normally very secretive nocturnal creatures. At rest it will fold up all of its legs and become an innocuous looking black blob about the size of a quarter. But when it extends all of its appendages, the whip scorpion expands to the diameter of a dessert plate. Crawling sideways like a crab, it rivals any sci-fi creation ever imagined by Hollywood.

Two serrated claws, or pedipalps, are curled up in front of the face, which is beaded with five shining eyes. A pair of forelegs serve as long thin antennae that it waves around to feel for potential prey.
They are members a group of arachnids called Amblypygids, which means "blunt rump," because they lack the curved tail that their cousins, the scorpions, wield for weapons. They have no venom or stinger, so are reportedly harmless to humans. Amblypygid moms carry their newly hatched young on their backs, a trait shared by scorpions; I like that these scary looking animals exhibit nurturing behavior.

Our visitor was very patient with us, posing for photographs and demonstrating its graceful movements without dashing away. Perhaps we'll be lucky enough to have a family of Amblypygids take up residence in our yard to help control the cricket population that has been keeping me awake at night. Or maybe they already have; it's been a little quiet around here lately.

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