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Collecting Scorpions: Methods and Ethics

There are no protected scorpion species in the United States (the known extremely rare scorpions are already protected within the boundaries of our National Parks and Monuments), but scorpions from other countries cannot enter the U.S. without permits from the proper government authorities of BOTH countries (import/export). Scorpions ARE protected in most National Forests and Grasslands, BLM Parklands, National Park Service lands, and State Parks of nearly all of the western states.
Collecting anything, living or dead, from Tribal Lands is STRICTLY FORBIDDEN without express written consent from the respective Tribal Councils. Prosecutions are not uncommon. You have been informed.

There is, however, always a need for new specimens, especially in remote reaches (and some not so remote) of the western states, but one MUST go through the proper channels to get permission to collect on the properties listed above.

If you have a scorpion that you want identified, or have one that you think may be of interest to me or other "scorpiologists", please send me an email and tell me what you have. Or if you happen to live in a place like California, Arizona, or Nevada, drop me a line and I can tell you what to look for and if I need any to photograph or study for ongoing projects.

The Gear
To go collecting scorpions you will first need to organize a pack of collecting gear. The following is a list of suggested items to make collecting scorpions fairly simple.

1. Fisherman’s or Photographer’s vest. Since these items can be expensive (to around $80 or more!), a trip to a local department store, sports or general, might introduce you to a fairly inexpensive ($20) vest full of pockets and holes to store your collecting gear and collected specimens.

2. Forceps. Now, do you really want to pick up scorpions with your fingers? I only do when absolutely necessary! Depending on the known sizes of the species in your vicinity, or where you’ll be going, you may wish to obtain long forceps (10 inches/30 cm) for large species or hard-to-reach (cliffs, roadcuts, etc.), or small forceps for smaller species. I do not recommend common “tweezers” sold at cosmetics counters because they are made of a thicker metal and lack “touch,” not unlike “road feel” in a sports car. Like driving a fine sports car, you want to feel the road and everything between your hands and the road; same with scorpions: you want to gently grasp the scorpion, strong enough to hold on, light enough to resist injury to the scorpion. Most collectors wrap the ends with medical tape to prevent further injury, plus it allows one to see the tips of the forceps when “blacklighting.”

3. Black Light. As most people know by now, scorpions have the extraordinary ability to flouresce under ultraviolet (long wave) light. The best easily obtainable battery-powered portable lantern is the Night Stalker III from Bass Pro Shops (Catalog Number 38-564-900-00). These are fairly inexpensive, especially when compared to units available through biological supply houses. Instructions for the best use of the Night Stalker III are provided below. Stay away from “short wave” UV lights: they do not work for scorpions and can damage the skin and eyes.

4. Containers. There are several routes to go here, again, depending on numbers and sizes of scorpions you think you’ll encounter or collect. Temporary containers of choice include: medicine vials; “Ziploc” sandwich bags; 35 mm film canisters; deli-pack plastic containers; “Gladware” or “Ziploc” reusable plastic containers. Some collectors even use 5-gallon buckets, but these are the guys that pillage thousands of Smeringurus mesaensis and Hadrurus species for those plastic paper weights. When keeping accurate records of locality data, most of these items can either be written on or can have a number affixed to them for the transfer of data into a journal. I often use “Ziploc” bags, collect the scorpions, through in some soil, grass, leaves, whatever, and when I get back to the car or camp I drop a piece of index card with the data written onto it.

5. Index Cards. Or some other “strong” paper for notes to insert directly into the collecting vial/bag/etc. Use pencil or permanent, water-proof ink that will not bleed or fade if it becomes necessary to put the label in alcohol. Data label procedures are described below.

6. Snake Chaps. I hope the die-hard collector gets these, especially those who are collecting in areas known for venomous snakes, cholla/jumping cactus, yucca, agave (especially Lechuguilla in the Chihuahuan Desert) or any other sticky-thorny-pierce-yer-ankle thing. I like to use them for the latter items because my experience with rattlesnakes has not been life threatening when blacklighting. Yes, rattlesnakes are difficult to see when blacklighting. Yes, they will strike with no warning. Yes, I have come right up on them with no rattling. No, I have never been the object of a strike or striking pose while blacklighting. Yes, I have been struck at in the day. No, I have never been bitten. Rules to avoid snake bites are below.

7. Hat. I like a hat to keep my hair out of sticky bushes like acacia, mesquite, etc. Some scorpions burrow at the bases of plants and you should blacklight right up in there to see them. Not fun when you shine your light under a bush and see the eerie shape of a rattledaddy! Some scorpions even live in the trees and bushes or climb them to consume their meals. The type specimen and one of only 3 known Vaejovis chisos (in the Chisos Mountains of the Texas Big Bend) was collected a meter up in a bush, eating a moth!

8. CAMERA! Never leave home without a camera. Just a good thing to do. You never know what you’re going to see.

Of course, you don’t have to have these items, they are suggested for the real collector, some are best for the novice to keep them out of trouble. My collecting gear includes:
spare batteries,
Ziploc bags,
10-inch-long forceps,
3-inch long forceps (for the little ones),
tape (to help pull the microscopic spines or glochids of prickly pear cactus out of my knuckles),
school-book style backpack,
snake chaps (when going way out),
deli-pack cups (for tarantulas, if I see them),
headlamp or flashlight,
index cards,
thermometer (calibrated, 4-inches to poke into the ground for soil temps),
good hiking shoes/boots,
longsleeve shirt (usually flannel, to prevent cat-claw acacia scratches),
khaki cargo pants with big pockets (denim glows in blacklight)

On serious trips I usually fill the big list above.

Collecting Methods

Note: Please replace all objects that you overturn or move to their original position or as close as possible. Remember, moisture is conserved under objects and this moisture is vital to the organisms in the vicinity, especially in arid habitats, and even in more humid areas. Mark Newton, an Australian scorpion student and owner of The Spiral Burrow reminded me of this important omission from my page with this statement: "This probably seems obvious but I have been out with people new to this and looked in horror at a heap of rocks above ground with gaping holes left behind. It looks hideous and destroys the homes of many critters." 'Nuff said.

When going out on day-trips, I suggest not to attempt to dig out the scorpions, some species dig large burrows, plus it really disrupts the ecosystem of the *immediate* vicinity.

Digging. . . . But if you must dig, here is what to do (suggested by Dave Gaban): Stick a grass blade or long stick gently into the oval or crescent shaped burrow; Without removing the stick, slowly pour water into the burrow; Carefully dig “below” the stick, following the stick and moisture (the moisture helps prevent caving); If you run out of stick, repeat the process until you reach the inhabitant: BEWARE! It could be a large Scolopendra centipede!

Rock-rolling. Perhaps the best method, if you are in any area that is rocky or has a lot of loose surface debris, like dead woody plants (agaves, yuccas, saguaros [be careful! Might be protected to disturb even DEAD saguaros], and trees), cow-poop, trash piles, loose bark, lumber, etc. Rocks: Look for rocks that are not “deeply rounded” or “set” into the soil. Rocks that are flat-bottomed or fairly easy to move are more likely to have scorpions or other critters under them. NEVER reach your fingers down under the object: some species, especially of the American genus Centruroides (the bad-nasties) are negageotropic, they cling to the undersides of objects, and many stings are the result of carelessly placed fingers landing on resting scorpions. Always pull the object over toward you: might be a rattledaddy sleeping under there, or even a bat! (Yes, I have found two pallid bats under a rock in the Manzano Mountains, New Mexico!) Pulling the rock toward you helps make the rock/object (not Lobster) act as a shield.

Rock-rolling or day-collecting is probably when you might encounter dangerous sankes the most, especially if you live in the USA. Rattlesnakes, in particular, have come out in the morning to sun, then retreat under bushes when the temperature has risen, about Noon. Many people are snake-bitten by stepping into, or reaching under, bushes. Black Widow Spiders also build webs under and between bushes.

The Bass Pro Shops Night Stalker III: Setup for Scorpion Hunting
What you will need: Phillips Head Screwdriver; Aluminum tape (or aluminum foil AND tape); Sharp, inexpensive knife; Flame source (stove-top).
1. Batteries. Batteries of choice (from years of experience): Duracell Alkaline.
2. Black Light Reflector. The surfaces on the unit are white on the white light side, shiny on the blacklight side. You want a shiny surface wherever a blacklight is going to be so as not to reflect white light when you’re hunting scorpions. Remove the lens covers and bulbs (Refer to #3 First). Tape some aluminum foil or foil reflective tape over the white surface.
3. Bulb Change. There are 3 bulbs in the NSIII: One white fluorescent bulb (WFB) and 2 blacklight bulbs (BLB). The WFB is on the “single bulb” side; the BLB are on the “dual bulb” side. Per instructions, remove the outer light covers (one white, one clear). Position the “switch” to the “single bulb” place on the dual bulb side to see which bulb lights. Remove that BLB. Remove the WFB and replace with the BLB that was removed, and put the WFB in the spot where the BLB was originally.
WHY? Fluorescent bulbs work via a transformer, which removes so much energy from the batteries and delivers a set amount of this energy to each position of the switch. Unfortunately, each position receives the same amount of energy. Therefore, 2 BLB are NOT better than one: the single BLB will literally receive twice as much power than each of the two bulbs on the dual switch setting. Result: Brighter black light from a single BLB! Also, the WFB is now your alternate light source, plus, it reserves the other for a spare BLB.
4. Replace Covers. Before replacing the plastic light covers, I suggest cutting a long slit in the clear cover, to allow more UV light to escape (the plastic impedes a little bit of UV, plus may itself glow or begin to glow after repeated exposure to UV). It is not recommended to use the unit without a cover; it seems to make the unit flimsy. With the cover off, heat a knife (sharp or not too sharp: but use an inexpensive knife because the heat will make the knife lose its “temper,” making it more difficult to keep sharp and more brittle) hot enough to gently pierce the plastic. Reheat the knife when it will no longer slide through the plastic. Cut a long, fairly wide, slit, long and wide enough to allow plenty of UV to escape past the plastic at a decent angle for good illumination. Keep the sides, top, and bottom intact to allow the unit to remain sturdy when reassembled. Place the clear plastic cover on the single BLB side, the white cover on the dual side.

Now, you should be ready to go.

Other collecting tips will be added to this site in the future.

New Email Address: "telsonboy {AT} sbcglobal {dot} net" worded this way as an antispam measure.
Kari J. McWest
Canyon, Texas, USA