I was introduced to bird watching as a hobby during my late teens. It didn’t take too many visits to the nearby scrub forests to get addicted to this activity that I only had just begun to discover. This also meant many trips to the swathes of wilderness on the outskirts of the city.
The time spent in the outdoors looking at birds and learning about them gave me ample opportunities to see other creatures too. And, driven by curiosity, I began learning about these as well.
It was on one such birding trip that I accidentally dislodged a brick sized rock while parking my bicycle. My eyes caught sight of a little creature that looked like a scorpion! Instinctively, I stepped back. The more I saw of this ‘scorpion’, the more I was convinced that it wasn’t one. With this thought running at the back of my mind, I cautiously got close to it. The entire body resembled that of a scorpion; it had eight legs and very well developed pedipalps too. However, the typical tail of a scorpion was missing, and it had a thread like appendage instead! I was not sure if it could sting with this appendage. With caution, so as to not crush it, I replaced the rock in the exact same spot with the creature underneath it.
Those were the days when the focus of such outings was primarily birds and everything else was incidental and unimportant. Consequently, this brief encounter was forgotten until I chanced upon one more individual a couple of years later. All this was before I managed to get my first camera and much before the advent of the Internet. The second time around, I pored over some books and was able identify this eight-legged scorpion-like creature as a Whip Scorpion!
More recently (Aug. 2016 to be exact), I was with like-minded friends near Coimbatore. We decided to explore a patch of wild growth after dark. Armed with small torches, we looked around for the creatures of the night. Soon, we spotted a roosting butterfly – a Large Salmon Arab – when the dull beam of light from my torch fell on it. This got the group excited.
As we went along, I shone my torch on a rock that jutted out on to the path, and froze in my tracks. I finally had a Whip Scorpion in front of me! I prayed that it would co-operate for a picture. I quickly set up my equipment while my friends kept an eye on it. Thankfully, I managed to get pictures – a long wait it had been!
Apart from my first encounter where the Whip Scorpion was disturbed, all the subsequent ones were in the night, indicating that it is a nocturnal creature. If you notice in the picture, the first pair of legs is slender and long and extends in front, suggesting its use as antennae.
Oh yes, coming to its name – it is not a scorpion but merely a relative of one and is not venomous; the ‘whip’ is thought to be sensory in nature (in function?). However, though I have not experienced it, the Whip Scorpion is known to emit acetic acid (vinegar), which gives it the popular name Vinegarroon. It preys on a variety of insects and other small creatures.
It is typically a creature of the tropics and can be seen in a variety of situations. Like my first encounter, these creatures may be seen under undisturbed rocks, under the bark of dead trees, crevices and cracks in the walls of buildings, burrows, possibly leaf litter and other similar places which are dark and afford them a good hiding place.
The next time you have a chance to explore the wilderness on foot; do keep an eye open for the Whip Scorpion.