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Scorpion species common in Malibu area

Pictured is a two-inch-long common California scorpion. Photos by Suzanne Guldimann/22nd Century Media
Pictured is a two-inch-long common California scorpion under a blacklight.
Suzanne Guldimann, Freelance Reporter
10:01 am PDT September 3, 2014

Many Malibu residents have never seen one, but scorpions are surprisingly common in Malibu and while none of the local species are considered dangerous, they can deliver a painful sting.

Often described as bugs, scorpions are actually arthropods, and are more closely related to spiders than they are to true insects. 

Scorpions occasionally turn up inside a house or garage, but most encounters occur outdoors and sting reports tend peak in late summer, when humans are more likely to be outside at night and to go barefoot.

“There are two kinds of scorpions that we usually see in the Santa Monica Mountains,” National Park Service Ranger Razsa Cruz said on a recent Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area night hike that offered a closer look at local “creatures of the night.”  

According to Cruz, Paruoctonus sylvestrii, the common California scorpion, is the species most often encountered throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, including Malibu. It’s a small scorpion that seldom exceeds two inches in length, but it’s able to subdue insects nearly its own size, although it isn’t reportedly aggressive towards humans and prefers to avoid confrontation. 

Anuroctonus phaiodactylus, a type of burrowing scorpion, also occurs in the area. It’s a slightly larger and more robust species that spends much of its life underground. 

The striped-tail scorpion, Vaejovis spinigerus, also reportedly turns up in some of Malibu’s canyon communities.

Cruz demonstrated how to spot scorpions using black light. UV radiation causes proteins in the scorpion’s exoskeleton to fluoresce, glowing pale green or blue. A quick survey along the side of a trail-cut revealed more than a dozen scorpions.

“These are common California scorpions,” Cruz said. She explained that they shelter in rock crevasses or in burrows made by other animals during the day, and only come out to hunt at night.

The common California scorpion is not regarded as a dangerous scorpion and is apparently is a popular species in the pet trade. It does have a painful sting, which it will use in self defense — victims compare it to a wasp sting — but it only poses a health hazard to individuals with severe allergy to the venom. 

Most scorpion stings reportedly occur when humans inadvertently disturb scorpion hiding places, including woodpiles, garden furniture and potted plants. Scorpions also sometimes end up in shoes left out overnight on the doorstep or beach towels and other fabric items, which they mistake for a safe hiding place.

“Though not aggressive, the scorpion’s close association with humans makes envenomation relatively common,” the Center for Disease Control website states. “The sting can be extremely painful. For some, the worst passes in 15–20 minutes, but [it is] not uncommon to remain very painful with numbing sensations for 2–3 days.”

Even with the most dangerous North American scorpion — the Arizona bark scorpion, which has begun to move into California but hasn’t been reported in Malibu yet — fatalities are rare, and are primarily due to anaphylactic shock rather than to the actual venom, according to the CDC.

According to the CDC, residents in scorpion country can take the following steps to prevent scorpion stings: always wear shoes outdoors; wear long sleeves, pants and leather gloves while working in the garden; and shake out clothing or shoes before putting them on. Individuals with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should consider carrying an EpiPen.

Scorpions are regarded as beneficial as well as fascinating by etymologists, who point out that the arthropods eat many times their own weight in insects. Residents who encounter them in their home or garden are encouraged to try coexistence instead of extermination. Scorpions can be safely removed by placing a glass over the intruder and sliding a piece of stiff paper underneath.  Care should be used handling dead scorpions, because they can reportedly still sting.

Malibuites interested in a guided exploration of scorpions and other night life should keep an eye on the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area’s event guide, http://www.nps.gov/samo, for upcoming events.