Hunting scorpions in South Africa’s Kruger National Park

Scropions are easy to find in South Africa's Kruger National ParkWhen travelers visit Kruger National Park in South Africa they expect to see plenty of wildlife. Most come hoping to spot the “Big Five” which includes lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and rhinos, but they’ll also see plenty of zebras, monkeys, and hippos too. What most don’t know is that South Africa also has more than 160 species of scorpions and countless spiders as well. While those critters aren’t quite as popular as the elephants and lions of Kruger, they can still be fun to spot while visiting the park.

On my recent visit to Kruger I had the unique opportunity to spend a day searching for a variety of scorpion and spider species with Jonathan Leeming, author of the book Scorpions of South Africa. Leeming has spent more than 25 years studying the creepy crawlies of Kruger and trekking through the bush with him is akin to tracking crocodiles with Australia’s late, great Steve Irwin. Much like Irwin, Leeming has the same enthusiasm for his work, and a big personality to match his energy. He is also extremely knowledgeable. Leeming has probably forgotten more about South Africa’s scorpion population than most people will ever know.

Leeming is well known in throughout South Africca and often teaches courses and gives lectures on scorpions and spiders. He works to help people to identify the various species native to the country so they know which ones are safe and which are best avoided. When I met him, Jonathan was preparing to give one of his courses to future safari guides. That course would help those guides to not only prevent clients from stumbling across potentially dangerous insects, but also to find some of the more interesting species to show off to travelers.Our day began with a brief lecture about the different scorpions and spiders that live in the northern Kruger region, with Leeming dispelling some of the myths about those archnids. For instance, not all the scorpions that live there are poisonous. In fact, some don’t even have a stinger at all. The trick is knowing which are dangerous and which are safe, and where they like to make their home. Jonathan showed off some of his favorite species, which were safely contained inside specimen jars, pointing out their distinguishing features and offering insights on their demeanor. Some are far more aggressive than others, which can make them potentially more dangerous as well.

Hunting scorpions in South AfricaWith the lecture portion of the class behind us, we quickly set out on foot to go in search of scorpions. Jonathan led us to a rocky hill, where we began looking for signs of the creatures. He told us that they liked to live in tight cracks between the rocks, where they could easily slide in and out without attracting the attention of other animals passing by. He also told us that scorpions love to prey on millipedes and that a sure sign of a scorpion living in the rocks was the remains of millipede rings, left over from a scorpion’s feast, along the edge of a lair.

Sure enough, we found those tell-tale signs, and were soon pulling back rocks to uncover the arachnids. Most of the members of our group were a bit trepidatious about what we might find under those rocks, but Leeming was fearless. Over the course of his research and studies, he has been stung numerous times, and while a number of the scorpion species of Kruger are harmless, there are still a few that can, and will, leave you writhing in pain. That didn’t slow Jonathan down however, and with each discovery his enthusiasm grew. Armed with long metal tweazers, Leeming was soon pulling scorpions from beneath the rocks. Before long, we had a tidy little collection of menacing looking arachnids, some of which didn’t seem to mind being examined, and others that were down right pissed off at our intrusion into their homes.

Throughout the rest of the day, we drove around Kruger National Park spotting wild game. But on numerous occasions we stopped our vehicle to explore other rocky outcroppings. Turning over those rocks, we found yet more scorpions, and it became abundantly clear that the critters were very common, even if we took little notice of them before that day. It was beginning to seem that, almost literally, there was a scorpion under every rock, and yet the number of people who are stung on an annual basis is exceedingly small. While scorpions have a bad reputation, the reality is that they aren’t nearly as dangerous as we are sometimes led to believe. Something that Leeming continually reminded us throughout the day.

Our search for Kruger scorpions didn’t end when the sun went down either. That’s when Leeming pulled out his final tip for the would-be scorpion hunters that he has spent the day with. It turns out, scorpions glow when illuminated by ultraviolet light. So as the sun went down, Jonathan handed out pocket sized flashlights armed with ultraviolet bulbs. We then began combing the area around our camp, where we discovered several more scorpions lurking not far from where we slept and ate. The little critters glowed eerily in the pale UV lighting, sticking out like sore thumbs. There was even one nestled in the knot of a tree just a few feet from our dinner table. The evening exercise served only to remind us that these arachnids are everywhere, but remain unnoticed most of the time.

At the beginning of our day, Leeming started off with a group of journalists who were leery of anything that had to do with insects in general and scorpions in particular. But before our lesson was over, each of us held a scorpion in the palm of our hand. We learned that they were not as dangerous as we had been led to believe, and that they were all around us, even if we hadn’t seen them. We also learned how to handle them safely, which could prove to be an invaluable skill should we encounter them in the future. While none of us will probably ever have an enthusiasm for arachnids to match Leeming’s, we certainly had a new found respect and understanding about the creatures.

It is doubtful that many travelers go on safari in Africa looking for scorpions, or other insects for that matter. But should you find yourself there on your future travels, don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for Africa’s smaller critters. They’re probably there, right under your nose, just waiting to be discovered.

This trip was sponsored by South African Tourism and South African Airways, but the ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

Passenger on Southwest flight stung by scorpion

First snakes on a plane, now scorpions.

Doug Herbstommer was traveling from Phoenix to Indianapolis on Southwest Airlines and was apparently carrying some non-TSA approved items in his carry-on. As he was rummaging through his bag, he was stung by a scorpion, identified as an Arizona bark scorpion, which had presumably gotten into his bag in Phoenix and come along for the ride. The sting of this kind of scorpion is rarely fatal and Herbstommer was treated when the plane landed in Indianapolis.

Several more baby scorpions were found in Herbstommer’s luggage and in the overhead bin of the plane. They were removed and the jet was fumigated as a precaution.

[via USA Today]

A Scorpion Queen is crowned in Thailand

Imagine finding a scorpion in your bag on your trip through customs. That’s what happened to my friend on her way from Oaxaca back to the States. She had thought her boyfriend had planted a fake scorpion when she found a real one sitting atop her clothes during the bag checkpoint.

Now multiply that scorpion by 5,000 and live with them in a glass-enclosed showroom of a mall for 33 days. That’s what 39 year-old Kanchana Kaetkaew, a Thai scorpion handler, accomplished this new year. She didn’t walk away completely unscathed though; she was stung 13 times in that month’s time, but she has built up an immunity to the venom. Enduring that pain is enough for this Scorpion Queen, however, who In accomplishing this broke her own Guinness Book of World Records.

No Wrong Turns: Snakes and Spiders and Scorpions…Oh My!

Traveling allows us to experience many new things: unique cultures, languages, food and wildlife. I am always up to experience it all but it’s the creepy crawlies that fall under the “wildlife” category that I’d prefer not to encounter–no matter how hard I try to avoid bugs they somehow always know where to find me.

The other night, just before I was about to hop into bed, I happened to notice something move on the floor below the bathroom sink. My first instinct was SPIDER! and I quickly told Tom, my resident bug catcher, that he might have some work to do. On closer inspection I realized that it wasn’t a spider it was instead a rather cranky looking SCORPION! Needless to say that got the bug-catcher moving. We (he) caught it, let it go outside and then each of us performed a fantastic bug dance.

You won’t just find beaches in Baja Mexico but an arid desert as well. And this desert is home to a few creatures we’d all like to avoid. Here are a few critters to watch out for in Baja California Sur, how to minimize any encounters and what to do if things get “a little too close for comfort.”

Snakes


Prevention

The chances of finding a snake in your room or casita are pretty rare but it isn’t unheard of to see one if you are out hiking in the desert hills. Wearing solid hiking boots and heavy socks is a great way to prevent your ankles from getting bitten. Another tip is to make noise when you walking to alert the snakes of your presence and to give them time to move away.

Two local snakes you may run into are the rattlesnake and the “Mudo” snake, another type of rattlesnake. “Mudo” mean mute in Spanish and refers to this serpent’s lack of rattlers and therefore the lack of warning you receive before you get too close.

If you are bitten
Should you end up getting bitten, get yourself to the nearest medical facility to find anti-venom as soon as possible. Try to stay calm and do your best to remember (if you can) what the snake looked like so you can describe it to your doctor. Tourniquets are no longer recommended as they might actually speed up the movement of the venom.

Spiders


Prevention
Truth be told, though I still cannot fathom this, the big hairy spiders are more scared of you than you are of them. That being said there are some big spiders here and if you’ve ever seen one skitter across the floor at night (or the ceiling!) you might be less inclined to believe this too. Spiders tend to hide in dark, small crevices. Folded clothes, shoes, boxes, and cupboard corners seem to fit the bill as cozy spider homes. The ones you really want to watch out for are the smaller spiders: the black widow and the brown recluse spider pack enough poison to cause serious harm.

If you are bitten
Relax not all spider bites, even those from the terrifying tarantula, are not necessarily dangerous. This does depend on the individual as some people experience stronger reactions than others. Apparently, 99% of venomous spiders don’t have fangs strong enough to penetrate human skin (though I’ve heard this time and time again spiders still freak me out). Those experiencing a serious reaction or those who are unsure what type of spider bit them need to take their bitten selves to the nearest hospital to receive treatment immediately.

Scorpions


Prevention
These little night loving creatures tend to keep to themselves but if they do venture onto your turf they are usually found in shoes or other dark places. Make sure to shake out your shoes and take a good look around dark areas before blindly sticking your hand in. There is a very dangerous scorpion called the “Durango scorpion” in Mexico it is not found in the Baja. The scorpions here are smaller, translucent and deliver a sting more like a bee sting. If you find one in your room you can try to catch it under a glass (they are feisty, so be very careful) or it can easily be squished by a hard-soled (or hard-souled?) shoe.

If you are stung
Unless you are sure about what type of scorpion stung you, it is best to get to the nearest hospital. The locals swear by using antiseptic made from rubbing alcohol filled with previously caught scorpions. Me….I’d rather go to the hospital.

Tom and I have been fairly lucky as we have only really encountered one scorpion but that one was enough to make me start shaking out all my clothes before I put them on as well as to wear sandals around the casita rather than bare feet. Chances are you probably won’t run into too many of these creatures as they prefer to stay away from humans but, if you do receive a bite the general consensus is to get to a doctor right away.


“No Wrong Turns”
chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.

Scorpions on a Plane!!

A man flying on United between Chicago and Burlington, Vermont, was stung twice by a scorpion that made it onto his plane.

TSA agents were able to wrestle the interloper to the deck and rescue the hapless passengers. They frisked the scorpion, wanded him, paraded him through a metal detector, then released him and wished him a pleasant connecting flight.

Shockingly, it’s not the first time. On Sunday, an American Airlines plane from Miami to Toronto was delayed at its destination because a scorpion got on board lacking a passport, and presumably riding without paying full fare.