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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Hike’s Nocturnal Adaptation Theme Sheds Light on Malibu Scorpions

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

A Solstice Canyon night hike led by National Park Service interpretive rangers Mary Holmes and Anthony Bevilacqua on Saturday offered an opportunity to learn more about one of Malibu’s more elusive inhabitants, the scorpion.
Although there are four scorpion species in the Los Angeles area, the varieties most often found in Malibu are reportedly paruoctonus sylvestrii, the common California scorpion; and vaejovis spinigerus, the striped-tailed scorpion.
These small arthropods rarely exceed two inches in length. They are fierce nocturnal predators, able to subdue insects nearly their own size, but they aren’t reportedly aggressive towards humans and prefer to avoid confrontation.
Although scorpions are common residents of the Santa Monica Mountains, many Malibu residents have never seen one.
The best way to spot these elusive arthropods is at night with an ultraviolet light, because the scorpion’ entire exoskeleton fluoresces under UV light—a recent theory proposed by biologist Douglas Gaffin of the University of Oklahoma suggests the fluorescent pigments may act as a light receptor for the scorpion.
Ranger Bevilacqua and a couple of other scorpion enthusiasts were equipped with black light flashlights on the Solstice Canyon Walk. Within seconds of switching on his light, Bevilacqua located the first scorpion of the evening, glowing an eerie pale blue in the UV light.
“Scorpions hide during the day and are active at night,” Bevilacqua said, adding that holes left by other animals in the side of the road cut along the trail are ideal nesting places.
“As soon as it’s dark they’ll leave their hiding places and start hunting,” Bevilacqua said.
Additional scorpions were located almost underfoot on Rising Sun Trail. One large specimen was spotted on the vertical side of a rough-cut stone step.
“Remind me not to sit down,“ one walker commented.
According to Bevilacqua, most scorpion stings occur when humans inadvertently disturb scorpion hiding places, including woodpiles and garden furniture, but also shoes left out overnight on the doorstep or beach towels and other laundry left out to dry.
“I got stung three times by a scorpion that climbed into my jeans,” one recent local scorpion sting victim told the Malibu Surfside News. “It’s a good idea to shake your clothes out before you put them on if you live up here in the mountains,” she added.
“I keep finding them in my bathtub,” another resident told The News. “I just carefully carry them out on a paper towel and put them back in the garden. I’ve never been stung.”
None of Malibu’s scorpion species are regarded as a dangerous and both the common scorpion and the striped-tail are apparently a popular species in the pet trade. Both have a painful sting, which it will use in self defense-victims compare it to a wasp sting-but it only poses a health hazard to individuals with severe allergy to the venom.
“Though not aggressive, the scorpion’s close association with humans makes envenomation relatively common,” the Center for Disease Control website states. “The sting can be extremely painful. For some, the worst passes in 15-20 minutes, but [it is] not uncommon to remain very painful with numbing sensations for 2-3 days.”
Even with the most dangerous North American scorpion—the Arizona bark scorpion, which has begun to move into eastern Southern California, fatalities are extremely rare, and due to anaphylactic shock rather than to the actual venom, according to the CDC.
A study of “Animal-Related Fatalities in the United States”  during the period of 1991-2001 by Ricky L. Langley, lists just five scorpion-related fatalities during the 10-year period,  compared to 57 snake-bite fatalities and 533 deaths related to hornet, bee and wasp stings.
According to the CDC, residents in scorpion country can take the following steps to prevent scorpion stings: wear long sleeves, pants and leather gloves [while working outside], and shake out clothing or shoes before putting them on.
Individuals with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should consider carrying an epinephrine auto injector, or EpiPen, and should wear medical identification stating their allergy.
Scorpions are regarded as beneficial as well as fascinating by etymologists, who point out that the arthropods eat many times their own weight in insects. Residents who encounter them in their home or garden are encouraged to try coexistence instead of extermination.
Malibuites interested in a guided exploration of scorpions and other night life should keep an eye on the the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area’s event guide: www.nps.gov/samo, for upcoming events.
Ranger Mary Holmes explained that Saturday’s night hike in Solstice Canyon was intended to test the public’s interest and that more night hikes will be scheduled soon.

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