Arachnid Tale

Close-up of a scorpion on a bed of wood chips.

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center doesn’t only have marine animals.  Gumbo Limbo also houses gopher tortoises, Florida box turtles, and red rat snakes so that visitors have an opportunity to learn more about the variety of Florida’s native animals.  Outside of our walls, in the “wild,” we see many other animal species, like squirrels, foxes, opossums, and raccoons, just to name a few.

One animal we know lives around the area, but is very elusive, made a surprise appearance in our Education Lab.  A few weeks ago, staff prepared for the uncertain arrival of Hurricane Dorian, shuffling boxes around, carrying equipment in and out of the lab, and moving the usual delivery of supplies.  One of the items moved was a cloth cover that had ended up on the floor.  As the cover was scooted aside (thankfully by someone’s foot) a very large scorpion slid out from underneath the cover.  After many gasps and shrieks of excitement mixed with anxiety, the scorpion was safely transferred to a critter keeper so further examination could begin.  We wanted to determine what kind of scorpion we had been unknowingly sharing our lab with.  Judging by its size and color it was determined to be a bark scorpion, Centruroides gracilis.

Bark scorpions are native and extremely common throughout the state of Florida.  They are nocturnal arachnids that typically spend daytime hours under leaf litter, rocks, and bark.  The bark scorpion is the largest of three species that reside in Florida.  Male bark scorpions can grow up to four inches in length.  It just so happens the scorpion found in our lab is close to four inches long!  To answer the number one question asked regarding arachnids, “is it venomous and will it bite or sting?” yes, and yes.  It is a rather large scorpion, so it has quite a powerful sting.  Their venom is potent for an unsuspecting insect, but for humans it will do little more than cause a welt much like a wasp sting.

If you find yourself feeling a little more uneasy than you did before this article, there’s good news about scorpions!  One: they are carnivores, so they are excellent at pest control, eating cockroaches, termites, and other pesky insects.  Two: they are nocturnal, so the chances of encountering a scorpion is low.  One piece of advice if you would like to make sure your odds of encountering a bark scorpion remain low: make sure you keep wood or brush piles away from your living space or you may end up finding one that has followed insects into your home.

So, we have added a Florida bark scorpion to our staff; it will be earning wages in crickets by assisting the education staff, teaching visitors about scorpions, arachnids, and nocturnal animals.  The next time you come in for one of our programs, you may get a chance to see and learn more about this sneaky scorpion.  By the way, in case you were wondering if we named the scorpion, we did: Dorian.

From: Hammock Happenings, November-December 2019

By: Christie Collins, Science Educator