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10 Stinging Facts About Scorpions

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Not a fan? Consider vacationing in Antarctica—the only continent with no resident scorpions. Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that the creepy crawlies are an amazingly successful bunch, with over 1500 known species lurking about. Here’s a quick guide to these wonderful arachnids.

1. BABIES RIDE ON THEIR MOTHER’S BACK FOR PROTECTION.

While spiders lay eggs, pregnant scorpions take a different approach. In a process called ovoviviparity, babies hatch out of eggs that gestate within their mother’s body and then emerge from her as fully developed infants. Once outside, the tiny newborns are more or less helpless. So, for some much-needed security, they take up residence atop mother’s back. Here the babies remain until their first molt takes place—usually around one week later.

Scorpions make interesting parents. On the one hand, mothers of several species will crush up small insects and feed bite-sized chunks to their brood. However, should food get scarce, a female often resorts to eating her own progeny.

2. MASSES OF SCORPIONS WILL SOMETIMES SPEND THE WINTER TOGETHER.

During most months, scorpions tend to be solitary animals. But between November and March, a few species—like the dreaded North American bark scorpion—are prone to hunker down under some type of shelter (manmade or otherwise). There, upwards of 40 individuals can hibernate side by side. Naturally, discovering such a slumber party is every arachnophobe’s worst nightmare.

Believe it or not, many scorpions literally freeze while hibernating. Upon springtime’s return, they thaw out and track down a meal.

3. SO-CALLED “WHIP SCORPIONS” AREN’T TRUE SCORPIONS AT ALL.

Glenn Bartolotti via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

If you live in a tropical or subtropical part of Africa, Asia, or the Americas, you may’ve had some personal experience with whip scorpions (also known as “vinegaroons” and “uropygids”). Unlike real scorpions, which belong to a different arachnid order, these oddball invertebrates lack stingers and venom glands. Instead, a long, whip-like appendage protrudes from the hind end. Near its base lie two openings which can fire off twin streaks of a highly acidic, vinegar-like spray. Should this stuff land in an attacker’s eye, temporary blindness might follow.

4. THEY HAVE INCREDIBLY SLOW METABOLISMS.

Scorpions take leisure to a whole new level. Many spend 92 to 97 percent of their lives sitting motionless in burrows. Because they expend little energy, they can get by on very little nutrients. Some scorpions have been known to go over a year between meals.

5. THE SMALLEST KNOWN SCORPION IS LESS THAN A HALF-INCH LONG.

Discovered in 2014, Microtityus minimus (common name pending) is indigenous to the Dominican Republic, where it occupies southern foothills. At 0.4 inches from end to end, it’d look like a real pip-squeak beside either of the two biggest scorpions on Earth: India’s Heterometrus swammerdami and the African Pandinus imperator (aka the “emperor scorpion”), which grow from 5.9 to nearly 8 inches long.

6. ONE MOUSE IS AMAZINGLY RESISTANT TO PAINFUL SCORPION STINGS.

Human victims who’ve had a run-in with the business end of an Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus) feel an intense burning, prickly sensation. For grasshopper mice, the whole experience is a lot less dramatic.

Unlike the typical house mouse (a distant relative), the grasshopper mouse has a mutation that neutralizes the venom of the bark scorpion, which it eats. In order to feel pain, two separate steps are required: first, something must initiate the signal which then has to reach the brain. But something else happens when a grasshopper mouse gets stung by one of these scorpions—after the venom is injected, the ensuing pain signal never gets sent to the brain.

This trick probably evolved to keep the mammals from starving. As neurobiologist Ashlee Rowe explains, dietary options are extremely limited out in the Arizona desert, where the stinging scorpions “represent a really valuable food resource” for the mice.

7. COURTSHIP DANCES CAN GET RATHER ROUGH.

Come mating season, males of several scorpion species seize their partner by the pedipalps (pincers). Should she resist his advances, a male might give the female a “kiss,” pressing his jaws against hers. That’s when things get unpredictable. Sometimes, the scorpions proceed to circle each other—claw in claw—for hours on end. And, sometimes, one or both parties repeatedly sting the other.

If all goes well for the male, he releases a packet of sperm, which sticks onto the ground beneath him. Then, he physically drags his mate over the packet, hoping that she grabs it and stuffs it into her genital opening. In the aftermath, the female either abandons her partner, or—worst-case scenario—eats him.

8. THEY GLOW UNDER UV LIGHTS.

Looking for scorpions after dusk? Bring a portable black light. Under an ultraviolet beam, the invertebrates glow like novelty children’s toys, emitting a strange bluish green hue. Nobody’s quite sure why they do this, but experts have their theories.

In 2010, arachnologist Carl Kloock and his colleagues at California State University exposed a series of scorpions to ultraviolet beams. Beneath higher UV levels, the test animals stayed relatively inert, becoming more active only when the lights were turned down.

Moonlight could explain his findings. By and large, scorpions are nocturnal. Throughout the day, the Sun emits far more ultraviolet waves than those reflected by the Moon at night. “They may be using UV as a way to determine whether or not to come to the surface to look for prey, based on the light levels,” Kloock says.

This still doesn’t explain why scorpions become fluorescent, though. For the record, Kloock thinks the glowing phenomena is probably “part of the mechanism by which the scorpions respond to moonlight.”

9. A SCORPION’S EXOSKELETON MIGHT ACT LIKE ONE GIANT EYEBALL.

Even with their stingers, scorpions are vulnerable in the open. When not out hunting, the animals instinctively seek shelter—which isn’t easy to locate in pitch-black darkness. Nevertheless, they’re quite good at tracking down hiding spots at all hours of night.

University of Oklahoma biologist Douglas Gaffin thinks that a special optic talent helps scorpions navigate the gloom. Their exoskeleton, he believes, gathers “stray UV light” from the Moon and stars. Theoretically, this converts the creature’s outer casing into a “whole-body light detector” that sends information directly to the brain.

If true, this would mean that a scorpion can use its entire exoskeleton as an extra-large eye. To test his bold hypothesis, Gaffin exposed more than 100 scorpions to UV light and covered the eyeballs of some with foil. The blindfolded arachnids moved just as normally as the control specimens did. These results suggest that Gaffin’s hunch may well have some merit.

10. FEWER THAN 25 SPECIES CAN KILL PEOPLE.

Scorpion attacks can cause anything from mild discomfort to muscular twitching to irregular heartbeats. Yet, only around two dozen species are capable of taking human life. Among these outliers, the “southern man-killer” (Androctonus australis) is particularly infamous in north Africa, where it’s responsible for 95 percent of scorpion-related fatalities.

Also, note that these arachnids are especially dangerous to children. The Brazilian yellow scorpion (Tityus serrulatus), for instance, reportedly kills 3000 people a year, many of them young.

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Animals
14 Fascinating Facts About Foxes
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Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica and thrive in cities, towns, and rural settings. But despite being all around us, they’re a bit of a mystery. Here’s more about this elusive animal.

1. Foxes Are Solitary.

Foxes are part of the Canidae family, which means they’re related to wolves, jackals, and dogs. They’re medium-sized, between 7 and 15 pounds, with pointy faces, lithe frames, and bushy tails. But unlike their relatives, foxes are not pack animals. When raising their young, they live in small families—called a “leash of foxes” or a “skulk of foxes”—in underground burrows. Otherwise, they hunt and sleep alone.

2. Foxes Have A Lot In Common With Cats.

Like the cat, the fox is most active after the sun goes down. In fact, it has vertically oriented pupils that allow it to see in dim light. It even hunts in a similar manner to a cat, by stalking and pouncing on its prey.

And that’s just the beginning of the similarities. Like the cat, the fox has sensitive whiskers and spines on its tongue. It walks on its toes, which accounts for its elegant, cat-like tread. And—get this—many foxes have retractable claws that allow them to climb rooftops or trees. Some foxes even sleep in trees—just like cats.

3. The Red Fox Is The Most Common Fox.

The red fox has the widest geographical range of any animal in the order Carnivora. While its natural habitat is a mixed landscape of scrub and woodland, its flexible diet allows it to adapt to many environments. As a result, its range is the entire Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic Circle to North Africa to Central America to the Asiatic steppes. It’s also in Australia, where it’s considered an invasive species.

4. Foxes Use The Earth’s Magnetic Field.

Like a guided missile, the fox harnesses the earth’s magnetic field to hunt. Other animals, like birds, sharks, and turtles, have this “magnetic sense,” but the fox is the first one we’ve discovered that uses it to catch prey.

According to New Scientist, the fox can see the earth’s magnetic field as a “ring of shadow” on its eyes that darkens as it heads towards magnetic north. When the shadow and the sound the prey is making line up, it’s time to pounce. Here’s the fox in action:

5. Foxes Are Good Parents.

Foxes reproduce once a year. Litters range from one to 11 pups (the average is six), which are born blind and don’t open their eyes until nine days after birth. During that time, they stay with the vixen (female) in the den while the dog (male) brings them food. They live with their parents until they're seven months old. The vixen protects her pups with surprising loyalty. Recently, a fox pup was caught in a trap in England for two weeks, but survived because its mother brought it food every day.

6. The Smallest Fox Weighs Under 3 Pounds.

Roughly the size of a kitten, the fennec fox has elongated ears and a creamy coat. It lives in the Sahara Desert, where it sleeps during the day to protect it from the searing heat. Its ears not only allow it to hear prey, they also radiate body heat, which keeps the fox cool. Its paws are covered with fur so that the fox can walk on hot sand, like it’s wearing snowshoes.

7. Foxes Are Playful.

Foxes are known to be friendly and curious. They play among themselves as well as with other animals like cats and dogs. They love balls, which they frequently steal from golf courses.

Although foxes are wild animals, their relationship with humans goes way back. In 2011, researchers opened a grave in a 16,500-year-old cemetery in Jordan to find the remains of a man and his pet fox. This was 4000 years before the first-known human and dog were buried together.

8. You Can Buy A Pet Fox.

In the 1960s, a Soviet geneticist named Dmitry Belyaev bred thousands of foxes before achieving a domesticated fox. Unlike a tame fox, which has learned to tolerate humans, a domesticated fox is docile toward people from birth. Today, you can buy a pet fox for $9000, according to Fast Company. They’re reportedly curious and sweet-tempered, although inclined to dig in your furniture.

9. Arctic Foxes Don’t Shiver Until –70 degrees Celsius.

The arctic fox, which lives in the northernmost areas of the hemisphere, can handle cold better than most animals on earth. It doesn’t even get cold until –70 degrees Celsius. Its white coat also camouflages it against predators. As the seasons change, the coat changes too, turning brown or gray so the fox can blend in with the rocks and dirt of the tundra.

10. Fox Hunting Continues To Be Controversial.

Perhaps because of the fox’s ability to decimate a chicken coop, in the 16th century, fox hunting became a popular activity in Britain. In the 19th century, the upper classes turned fox hunting into a formalized sport where a pack of hounds and men on horseback chase a fox until it is killed. Today, whether to ban fox hunting continues to be a controversial subject in the UK. Currently, fox hunting with dogs is not allowed.

11. The Fox Appears Throughout Folklore.

Examples include: the nine-tail fox from various Asian cultures; the Reynard tales from medieval Europe; the sly trickster fox from Native American lore; and Aesop’s “The Fox and the Crow.” The Finnish believed a fox made the Northern Lights by running in the snow so that its tail swept sparks into the sky. From this, we get the phrase “fox fires.”

12. Bat-eared Foxes Listen For Insects.

The bat-eared fox is aptly named, not just because of its 5-inch ears, but because of what it uses those ears for—like the bat, it listens for insects. On a typical night, the fox walks along the African Savannah, listening, until it hears the scuttle of prey. Although the fox eats a variety of insects and lizards, most of its diet is made up of termites. In fact, the bat-eared fox often makes its home in termite mounds, which it usually cleans out of inhabitants before moving in.

13. Darwin Discovered A Fox Species.

During his voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin collected a fox that today is unimaginatively called Darwin’s Fox. This small gray fox is critically endangered and lives in just two spots in the world: One population is on Island of Chiloé in Chile, and the second is in a Chilean national park. The fox’s greatest threats are unleashed domestic dogs that carry diseases like rabies.

14. Foxes Sound Like This.

Foxes make 40 different sounds, some of which you can listen to here. The most startling is the scream:

Pleasant dreams!

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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