Living in Canada affords nature-loving folks certain securities. With remarkably few exceptions, Canadian nature is incredibly non-venomous (yes, spiders etc. have venom, but not enough to harm or do serious damage). In my province, we have no dangerous spiders, no deadly fish, only one venomous snake (the massasauga rattlesnake), and no tarantulas or scorpions that might accidentally be trod on during a walk in the woods.
To some, this might be dull, but for a total klutz who has a compulsion to poke every bit of nature she sees this is a Good Thing.
So, when I was down in Florida this summer, I found myself a little unnerved by all the nature that had the potential to be seriously bitey or painful or toxic. Venomous snakes? Lots. Spiders? Check. Velvet ants? Super painful – check. Scorpions? You betcha.
Another student from my University, Guillaume, was at BugShot. Guillaume does his field work in Panama, where there are all sorts of bitey/venomous critters, and therefore he is quite accustomed to dealing with them. He had brought with him this fantastic bit of equipment: a flashlight rigged up with a UV lightbulb.
On the first night, we prowled down the road looking for critters – Guillaume kept his light trained on the grass on the roadside. After a short while, he had spotted what the light was intended to find:
Striped Bark Scorpion, Centuroides hentzi
This was one of several that he found that evening. Though not thought to be deadly, the sting from this common species is reportedly very painful – the discomfort can last for days! They were tiny little things; this one was the largest and was perhaps the size of a loonie. (This, of course, made me completely paranoid every time I took too a knee to snap photos – scorpions could be anywhere! – but I managed.)
Now, you might be wondering why the UV light was so helpful in locating these lovely little arachnids. Why not just a regular flashlight? This next photo should clear things up for you:
Same scorpion, with Guillaume’s UV flashlight!
We don’t actually really know why many scorpions glow under ultraviolet wavelengths of light, but it’s been suggested that perhaps it helps them see better as they hunt by moonlight (Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has written about this phenomenon – I suggest that you check out his great post here). Whatever the reason, it is FREAKING COOL.
And now, just because, I’ll conclude this post with a gif.
Tripod, f/8, ISO-80, 1/4sec., 17mm, on-camera flash (1), UV and ambient light only (2)