Whipscorpions: An Evolutionary Trick and Treat

Whipscorpions take on a fearsome appearance to fool predators into keeping away.

Evolution can be tricky. Stonefishes are almost indistinguishable from the rocky reefs they inhabit, while moths have an uncanny ability to disappear into that ugly paint on the outdoor shed. Some animals, such as whipscorpions, have even evolved to mimic other animals, often to look dangerous.

Whipscorpions use huge, clawlike front legs to seize and rip apart prey, and have long, whiplike tails that end in a sharp point. But these masters of trickery are really more closely related to spiders than true scorpions.

 

 

whip scorpion
The giant whipscorpion, Mastigoproctus giganteus, the only species found in North America, range in the southern United States from deserts to grasslands, hiding in underground burrows or under leaves and rocks.

Unlike their more dangerous namesakes, whipscorpions are not venomous and are completely harmless to humans. They use their intimidating tails to direct a stream of acid at predators. The liquid is mostly acetic acid, or vinegar, earning them their second common name, "vinegaroon."

Whipscorpions are creatures of the night, and though they have up to twelve simple eyes, the animals cannot see well. But they use long, thin modified legs like antennae to sense the vibrations their prey make, and will eat anything they can subdue-from insects, beetles, and spiders to small frogs and toads.