“…And today we’re talking about an arthropod that might be right at home on English dining table next to a bottle of brown sauce. But more on that later…”
The desert is home to some strange creatures with some even stranger adaptation. Few phyla find as much success in arid climates like arthropods, which develop an arsenal of deadly defense mechanisms. But one armored titan is unique even among his bug and spider kin. While they may choose the paths of speed and venom, our hero chooses to ooze to gain an edge. But sometimes a strange liquid is the perfect way to safeguard Life, Death, and Taxonomy.
- Looks like a lobster scorpion.
- Vinny is all black with a flat head and a segmented abdomen.
- Like all arachnids, he has eight legs, but these are a bit different.
- The first two are long, antennae-like legs that give it that lobster look.
- The other six are for moving.
- It also has two pedipalps (the “mouthparts” of spiders and crabs and things) that function as claws like a scorpion’s.
- Sticking out from the back of its bum is a long, whip-like antenna that they use to spank prey.
Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a Measure Up intro this week. That means, we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is.
- 40–60 millimeters (1.6–2.4 in).
- How many Vinegaroons go into the length of the world’s largest recorded wild raccoon?
- Hint: Raccoons are heaviest in early winter and they can weigh twice their spring weight due to fat stores.
- Answer: 23 Vinegaroons. The raccoon was 140 cm (55 in). That’s 4.5 feet!
- The heaviest whip scorpion species weigh 12.4 grams (0.44 oz).
- How many crickets would a Vinegeroon eat if it ate its weight in crickets?
- Hint: Crickets are about 60 percent protein by weight, making it a better source of protein than chicken or dried beef! So eat your crickets kids.
- 15.5 crickets. They can weigh up to 0.8 grams.
- Range: Southern U.S. and Mexico. They love scrublands and dry, desert-like areas, but they’ll go anywhere there’s food.
- Diet: eats slugs, worms, and all kinds of insects
- Behavior: They actually have pretty poor eyesight and rely on sensing vibrations to find prey and escape danger.
Major Fact: Whipped Vinegar
Despite the Vinegaroon’s status as a non-scorpion, it does have that unnerving whip-like tail to contend with. However, unlike a scorpion, there are no venom-packed glands that supply this whip with deadly toxins. But the Vinegaroon isn’t just all pomp and no circumstance. This scary-looking tailed behind serves two major functions that help in its quest for survival.
The Vinegaroon’s forelegs and tail are all thin, delicate, and covered in tiny hairs. These nocturnal arthropods are most active at night, like many desert denizens. Though they have eight eyes, they stalk the darkness by taping their forelimbs like antennae to find their way. Their long delicate tail can be used for a similar purpose, they may also be used to detect vibrations around them.
The Vinegaroon is an armored menace to cricket and other bugs that get caught in its spiky hug, but when it comes to encounters with their own predators, they have another tool in their arsenal.
They have a gland located at the back of their abdomen and at the base of their tail. It doesn’t carry any poison, instead, it produces a substance that is 85 percent acetic acid. This acid is corrosive, foul-smelling, and has a powerful sour taste. The vinegaroon’s mammal predators like raccoons, coyotes, and rodents are significantly off put by this sour patch kid. Who would want to eat a spiked warhead with pincers anyway?
You and I have probably encountered acetic acid at one point if you’ve ever used vinegar. Vinegar contains the acid but it’s heavily diluted. While our pinchy friend sprays 85 percent acetic acid, vinegar only contains about four percent acid with the rest being water. Now think about how pungent vinegar is when it’s that diluted, and imagine being sprayed with a super concentrated form of it.
If you were to get sprayed with this solution because a whip scorpion caught a hungry look in your eye, you may feel like someone just shoved a salt and vinegar chip up your nose, but it’s not life-threatening. Just wash it off and rinse out your eyes as soon as possible.
Ending: So whip yourself into shape, don’t forget your pedipalps, and use chemistry to your advantage like the giant whip scorpion in LDT.
Thank you to Casy for creating our theme song. To hear more of Casy’s music search Casy Michelle on Youtube.
Thank you to Allegra for the animal suggestion for this episode!