Scorpions – the ultimate survivors

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Scorpions are the stuff that nightmares are made of in the realm of popular fiction, but nothing could be further from the truth - unless you are one of their prey species. Find out why you needn't fear an attack by the mighty scorpion during your African safari.

These arachnids are closely related to spiders, mites and ticks. While they are often thought of as desert-dwelling creatures, scorpions are highly adaptable and can be found all over the world - in forests, mountains, grasslands, and the bushveld regions of South Africa. Their only requirement is the presence of enough sand to support their burrowing habits.
Scorpions have roamed the earth for hundreds of millions of years and in that time they have got survival down to a fine art.

Scorpions might not live for long but they can certainly adapt to survive

With a dietary preference of insects, they can adapt their diet to suit what is available and even scavenge if necessary. Scorpions have a lifespan of only 8 years, but they can survive for up to 6 months without any food by lowering their metabolism to one-third of the norm, and limiting their oxygen intake in order to conserve energy. They drink very little water, if at all, with most of their liquid refreshment provided by their prey.

The nocturnal habits of the scorpion ensure that no extra energy is wasted by exposure to the heat of the sun. A hard exoskeleton also contributes to water retention, prevents dehydration and provides protection from the elements. This allows them to survive temperature extremes to the degree that frozen scorpions have been known to defrost and walk away from the experience.

Even in this state of minimal metabolism, a scorpion can spring into action at the first hint of a meal and will catch, sting and eat a likely suspect within an instant.

Are they dangerous?

Despite their quick reactions, few scorpions pose a threat to humans. Their poison is tailored according to their prey species and even the largest scorpion, the Emperor scorpion of Brazil, which grows to over 8 inches long, can just manage a mouse. As such, while their sting might be mildly painful, their poison poses little risk to us and is easily treated with anti-venom.

Symptoms of scorpion venom depend largely on the donor and may vary from nausea and headache to palpitations, unless of course a person is allergic to the venom, as with for example a Bee sting. There are a few exceptions of course. A sting from the Parabuthus species of scorpion such as the Parabuthus Tranvaalicus can be fatal to humans, especially young children and the elderly, so it pays to be vigilant while on safari.

It is a good idea to shake out your sleeping bag, check your boots, and watch where you are walking while – just in case.

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Friday, 20 October 2017