California Common Scorpion

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This was a fun find on my recent trip to the Golden State, as I had never come across one previously. This species is adapted to a variety of habitats – existing comfortably in the desert scrub as well as in the sandy coastline.

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California Common Scorpions are nocturnal predators that forage at night. They feed upon a variety of insects, centipedes and spiders. Scorpions use their pinchers to grab their prey as the stinger on their long tail punctures it. After their paralyzing venom is injected, the prey is eaten.

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In human encounters, the venom is known to cause pain, but it is not dangerous. This creature has a total length of about three inches as an adult and typically hides under objects during the daytime. I have mainly found them under logs.

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Scorpions mature slowly, molting their exoskeleton as they outgrow it. They can have a lifespan upwards of 10 years. It was a great experience to come across a few examples of this neat arachnid in the wild.

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Stone Centipede

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January isn’t the most ideal time to look for most types of invertebrates in northeast Ohio, but on above-freezing days some cool things can turn up. This month I found a few of these distinctive looking creatures by lifting rocks in my backyard.

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Centipedes (which in Latin means “hundred foot”) are exclusively predatory creatures. Because their exoskeletons lack a waxy coating that helps to retain water inside their bodies, centipedes require moist environments to survive.

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This particular type is known as a Stone Centipede; it was a species that I often encountered as a child growing up in Cleveland when looking for bugs. Though we used to call them “Hundred Leggers,” they only have 15 pairs of legs. They thrive in soil, leaf litter, under rocks and inside dead wood or logs.

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Centipedes are some of the oldest terrestrial animals and were some of the very first creatures to crawl from the sea onto the land. The first centipedes were probably very similar in appearance to modern centipedes. All are nocturnal and actively hunt down insects and other small animals.

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To subdue prey, this creature uses “poison claws” which are located on each side of its head. At less than two inches in total length, the Stone Centipede is harmless to humans, but deadly to spiders, sowbugs and any other smaller creature it may encounter.

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Ornate Harvestmen

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Harvestmen, commonly known as “Daddy Longlegs,” superficially resemble, and are often misidentified for spiders, though they are not closely related. Spiders can be identified by their two body segments, while harvestmen have just one.

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While harvestmen are common around my house, especially in late Summer and early Autumn, this particular type I’ve only seen while out-of-state, at Carter Caves, Kentucky and while visiting Snake Road in southern Illinois.

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Ornate Harvestmen are omnivorous, mostly eating small insects and a wide variety of plant material and fungi; they also are scavengers and feed on dead organisms.

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As their name implies, these are more “fancy” than the species of harvestman that I typically find. The Ornate Harvestmen’s intricate details and pattern make it an intriguing find while out and about looking for reptiles.

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Harvestmen are among the most ancient of arachnids, fossils indicate they were living on land over 400 million years ago.

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Devil Stripe-tailed Scorpion

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While exploring the desert, I often come across this creature, which lives primarly in Arizona and occupies a wide variety of habitats, from sandy deserts to grasslands to mountains.

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Like other scorpions, it has a long tail equipped with a venomous stinger used for defense and to subdue struggling prey (usually insects). It also is equipped with pincers to catch prey and tear it to pieces.

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Although the sting of this very common scorpion is reportedly quite painful, it is not dangerous to people with normal reactions and the pain soon vanishes.

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Scorpions have been found in fossil records, including coal deposits from the Carboniferous Period. They are thought to have existed in 425-450 million years ago. These arachnids have changed little in the hundreds of millions of years since they first climbed from the primal seas and took their place among earth’s first terrestrial arthropods.

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Devil Stripe-tailed Scorpions are sturdy and medium-sized. They usually are under rocks during the day. Like all scorpions, they are nocturnal and venture from their shelters at night to forage for prey.

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A stout tail with darkly-marked ridges running lengthwise and a total body length of about two inches are identifying characteristics of this desert ground dweller.

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Black and Yellow Flat Millipede

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It’s still cold and snowy, but turning over a few logs on the woods can reveal hidden life. This 2-3 inch black millipede has yellow bands separating each segment along its back. It also has very bright yellow legs.

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Millipedes are long, multi-segmented creatures that resemble centipedes, but centipedes have only one pair of legs on each segment, while millipedes have two legs on most segments.

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Generally found in leaf litter, millipedes tend to avoid light. They do not bite humans. Centipedes and millipedes belong to subphylum Myriapoda, meaning “many footed.”

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Millipedes commonly consume rotting vegetation rather than of living plant tissue. Their feeding activities speed up the decomposition of plant materials, playing an important part in Nature’s “recycling” process.

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Despite their many legs, millipedes cannot run very fast. They have two main defenses. One is curling up in a ball. The other is emitting a smell. If you pick up a flat millipede, it will often release a scent resembling almonds or cherrys. While this might be pleasant for humans to smell, it apparently is distasteful to some predators.

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Fossil evidence suggests that millipedes were the earliest animals to breathe air and make the move from water to land.

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House Centipede

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Although sometimes known as a “hundred-legger,” up to 15 pairs of long legs are attached to this speedy creature’s body. Its delicate legs enable it to travel surprisingly fast, as it runs across floors, up walls and along ceilings.

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Unlike most other centipedes, House Centipedes have well-developed eyes. Their hind legs are extra long, to mimic the appearance of antennae. When it is at rest, it is not easy to tell its front from its back.

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They prefer cool, damp places. Most live outdoors under rocks, piles of wood and compost piles. Within the home, they are often found in basements. The House Centipede is an insectivore; it kills and eats other arthropods, such as insects and arachnids.

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Though to many they are unappealing, they are actually quite beneficial, consuming Bad Bugs as well as a variety of other household pests.

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Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion

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The Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion is the largest scorpion in North America, reaching lengths of 6 inches.

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They have sensory hairs can detect air movement up to a foot away. They also have a long tail that is tipped with a bulb-like poison gland and stinger as well as large pinchers and four pairs of legs.

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This creature burrows deep in the desert soil and often follows the moisture line, creating burrows as deep as 8 feet below the surface. It emerges from its burrow at night to hunt. Its nocturnal habits allow it to withstand the extreme heat of its desert habitat.

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The scorpion’s large size allows it to feed on other scorpions as well as a variety of other prey, including desert insects, spiders, centipedes and small vertebrates, such as lizards.

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As with all scorpions, the Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion bears live offspring. As the babies are born, they quickly crawl up their mother’s pincers and legs and onto her back where they will safely ride for about one week. After that they leave their mother and are independent.

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Scorpions are the oldest known terrestrial arthropods, having been on earth for 430 million years. Finding this ancient creature that still makes a living in modern times and in a harsh environment was one of the highlights of visiting the Mojave Desert.

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American Giant Millipede

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Although the name millipede means “thousand legs,” most millipedes have more like 300; a California species, Illacme plenipes, holds the record at 666 legs.

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It’s hard enough for us to just count these legs, so it’s a real wonderment that a millipede is able to coordinate them all and move about so effortlessly by night on the forest floor.

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To prevent dehydration, they are confined to moist habitats in soils, leaf litter, or beneath stones and wood. If disturbed some millipedes protect their heads by curling into a tight spiral.

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Most millipedes feed on decomposing vegetation or organic matter mixed with soil. Millipedes are very important, because they help put nutrients back in the soil for plants and other organisms to use.

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This particular type of millipede can get to 4 inches long, making it twice as big as any other millipede native to the United States.

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In the Fall these can be seen migrating across roads, seeking places of shelter to wait out the Winter. They are not particularly common in northern Ohio, but become easier to find as you head south.

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Northwest Forest Scorpion

Although scorpions are usually associated with deserts, they actually occupy a range of habitats from coastal beaches to mountains to tropical rainforests.

Their large front claws and long tail featuring a stinger at the end of it allow them to be easily recognized. Because of their secretive habits, scorpions are seldom seen – even in places where they are common.

The Northwest Forest Scorpion may be encountered under rocks, logs and in burrows. It is medium-sized, ranging from 2-3 inches. It is a communal, rather shy and a slow-to-act scorpion, preferring to play dead or hide rather than sting. All scorpions are venomous, though few are dangerous to humans.

Like its relatives, the Northwest Forest Scorpion will eat anything it can catch, though its diet mainly consists of insects. After dark they leave the safety of their shelters and either actively seek out or lie in wait to ambush prey.

A really cool thing about scorpions is that they glow under a UV light and it just so happens that I have a UV flashlight with me in this trip. The glowing is thought to attract insects (some of which apparently can see UV light) at night.

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