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A Scorpion Surprise

November 14, 2010

What a discovery on this afternoon’s creative writing wander to Dripping Springs ( Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmarks, Orange County, CA) . . .

Scorpions have eight legs like spiders (which makes sense—they’re also part of the Arachnid family). But how iconic scorpions are with their big claws up in front and curved, segmented tail tipped with a menacing sting—they’ve been capturing the imagination of humans for a long, long time, and even have a constellation that bears their name: Scorpio.

Fellow docent Ric spotted this one while we were sitting and writing under the oaks where the trail widens just before you get to the fabulous fern grotto that is Dripping Springs.

For scorpions, this one was pretty big—three inches long, at least, although I didn’t take a ruler to it—and oddly enough, it was scooting along in broad daylight. Why was that surprising? Most scorpion activity occurs at night. No wonder I’ve never seen a scorpion before in all my O.C. wild wandering.

This is a Burrowing Scorpion (Anuroctonus phaiodactylus), one of 1700 described species in the world. The U.S. has 90 species; Orange County, 3 (that I could discover). You can find the other O.C. locals beautifully pictured on the enormous photo-collection—Natural History of Orange County—of all things alive in Orange County, CA, meticulously maintained by Dr. Peter Bryant (of the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, at the University of California, Irvine).

As we gathered around the scuttling scorpion this afternoon, it froze. So I started shooting photos. It didn’t budge. So fellow-hiker Joyce said, “Mr. DeMille, are you ready for your close-up?” From there his name quickly morphed to a more familiar “Cecil.”

For the next five minutes, Joyce and I took up a bunch of memory on our little digital cameras–Featuring: Cecil. While this included lots of zoomed close-ups, we were careful—the sting looked poised and ready for action.

I was glad to find out later that Orange County scorpions are not from the poisonous Buthidaea family.While Cecil’s stinger would sting, for sure, it would not pose a death threat—but there are at least 25 species around that world whose venom can kill a human.

The rest of the hike was equally glorious: brilliant skies, mid-70’s, green sprouting everywhere from last month’s early rains. Viva Limestone Canyon!

Slanting November light . . .

New-growth gooseberries . . .

I (heart) Limestone Canyon!

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