Episode 1 Take me home

Be thankful you’re not a scorpion! Your mother may have eaten you already! This, and many other unique traits, make scorpions one of our most "efficient" desert survivors, needing less food and water than any other active organism. You may know them for their devistating sting from their tail, but did you know that their "stinger", or telson, is not their tail at all? Or how about that very few of Mojave Desert scorpions are venomous enough to kill a person?

If you've already learned something, keep reading to learn all sorts of interesting facts about these tough little desert survivors!
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  • Scorpions are one of the OLDest land animals, having been on land for more than 300,000,000 years!!!
    • They have changed very little in an estimated 350 to 400 million years since they first became terrestrial!
  • Their thick waxy cuticle helps them hold water in their bodies and the harsh environment out.
  • Scorpion metabolisms are SO slow that an adult can live over 2 years between meals! (I just ate breakfast an hour ago and I'm hungry!)
  • Scorpions are arachnids like ticks, spiders, mites, whipscorpions, sunspiders, tail-less whipscorpions, daddy-long-legs and a few other eight-legged critters!
  • Like many other arachnids scorpions have elaborate appendages called "pedipalps". These "pinchers" are actually parts of their mouth!
  • Scorpions are also famous for their venom which they inject their prey and agressors by a swift jab from their telson, the pointed bulb at the end of their bodies.
Well defended!
  • Scorpions do not have tails, their "tail" is actually an elongation of their abdomen!
  • Scorpions will glow fluorescent green under a black light!
    • We do not know why they glow, we do know that it is likely due to an aromatic compound in their exoskeleton.
    • One theory suggests they glow slightly in star light to attract moths and other insects for their next meal.
Star light... Scorpion bright
Scorpion Ancestors were aquatic... and HUGE
  • It is thought that scorpions are descendent from large arthropods called Eurypterids.
    • These giant scorpion-like animals were fully aquatic and reached lengths of over 2 meters (about 6 feet)! But most were about 20 cms or so.
    • Eurypterids lived during the Cambrian and Permian eras (510 to 248 million years ago!).
  • Scorpions are so numerous in the desert that, in many places, there can be as much as 70 kgs of scorpion in a single hectare!!!
  • That means if you were to gather up all the scorpions, there would be enough to equal the weight of an adult human in a space the size of about 2 football fields!

Size: While scorpions world wide can be fairly large, the biggest Emperor scorpions of Africa and Asia can fill an adult's hand and the long-tailed African scorpions reach lengths of over 8 inches making them the longest scorpions we know of. North American scorpions range from

Color: Though color varies between species, Mojave Desert scorpions are generally well camouflaged and blend into their surroundings.

Scorpions are Arthropods like insects and crustaceans. They have hard exoskeletons that protect them from the external environment. Scorpions are also in the group (Class) Arachnida, which consists of eight-legged land Arthropods. Arachnids are mostly carnivorous

Scorpion Distribution Scorpions have adapted to a wide range of environments, including plains and savannahs, deciduous forests, mountainous pine forests, rain forests and caves. They live on every continent on Earth, with the exception of Antarctica. They have been found at higher than 12,000 feet elevation in the Andes Mountains in South America and in the Himalayas of Asia and the European Alps. In snowy areas, they hibernate during the colder months. In hot arid areas they may estivate (pass the summer in a dormant or torpid state).


About 90 species are found in the U.S., only 4 of which live east of the Mississippi River!!! Scorpions are most common in southern Arizona and in parts of Texas and central Oklahoma, we have several species living here in Southern Nevada a few of which are non-native.


Scorpions are more active at night... they're
  Spiral Burrow Cast
Spiral burrows may allow a cooling effect of burrows  
Anything that moves, really. Well, as long as it's not too big.
The pedipalps are used in scorpion courtship behavior. The male performs a kind of dance with the female, grabbing her pedipalps with his own and dragging her across the ground until he locates a preferred place to deposit his spermatophore, which is then drawn up into the female's genital pore, near the front on the underside of her abdomen. Some species' courtships include a sexual sting of the female by the male.

Scorpion gestation periods vary from several months to a year and a half, depending on the species. Each brood will consist of about 24-35 young. They are viviparious - the young develop as embryos in the female's ovariuterus. The young scorpions are born two at at time, climbing onto their mother's back to be carried there until their first molt in about two weeks, when they will be large and strong enough to take care of themselves.

Scorpions do not metamorphasize as they grow, changing only in size and sometimes to a deeper color with each molt. Typically five or six molts over two to six years are required for the scorpion to reach maturity. The molting is accomplished by a split in the outer covering through which the scorpion must crawl in order to grow.

Scorpion lifespans range from three to five years, though some species are thought to live 10-15 years. Some kinds of scorpions show more sophisticated social behaviors, like colonial burrowing, and living in familial groups that may share burrows and food.



Fun with respirometry!

nearly a toadlet adult toad toadlets

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Visit John at Sable Systems

Born and raised in South Africa, John Lighton received various degrees from the University of Cape Town before he left for the U.S. to study Physiology under George Bartholomew at UCLA in 1984. He has since become a U.S. citizen and served as an adjunct assistant professor at UCLA, guest professor at the University of Zurich, assistant professor at the University of Utah, and has held various research positions at the the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. John continues to enjoy an adjuct postion at UNLV and is currently heading Sable Systems, a scientist run biological instrumentation company. He maintains an internationally recognized research program in arthropod physiology and has published over 60 scientific papers since 1985.

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Rob Fulton grew up in Orange County Ca., where his interests in biology began by catching and "experimenting" with backyard insects... much to the disgust of his mother! Family outings usually revolved around camping and boating (power and sail). He received his BS in Biology from the University of California, Irvine with a concentration in terrestrial ecology, and then went on to get his Master's at Cal State Fullerton, focusing on pollination ecology, with a thesis on bat pollination in Agave. During graduate school, he and other students spent many weekends and summer days renovating the former Zzyzx Mineral Springs resort into a field station for the Cal State system. After much renovation and hard work, the Desert Studies Center was born. After a few years teaching community college, he took the opportunity to move to Zzyzx as the first resident manager of the Center, and is now in his 20th year there. His management duties consume most of his time, but he still finds time to teach educational extension courses for various universities (including UNLV), and engage in some research on his own or in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey working on long-term vegetation changes and fire recovery.

Beyond work, his interests are music (plays a mediocre bass guitar), kayaking, backpacking, fishing, and whatever his wife wants him to do. He also sometimes gets away to his own "private desert condo" for some quiet relaxation.

Desert USA - for informatin on over 60 desert organisms!
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