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We call it “The Rock Lobster”…

…but it’s not from the bottom of the sea.  If you had a hard time with the centipede or the solpugid, you may wish to look away.  Or not…

This is one of my favorite desert arthropods ever, in kind of an oscillating horrified/fascinated can’t look away from photos of the train wreck kind of way.

It’s a Tailless Whip Scorpion, or an Amblypygid.  Let me just say at the outset that it is completely harmless to humans, and has neither stinger nor venom nor powerful jaws like its “cousins” scorpions, spiders, or solpugids.  Like them, it’s an arachnid, but it has its own Order, Amblypygi.  It’s got narrow pincer-like pedipalps to capture and hold its small pray items which it detects with the long sensory appendages. The other six legs (as an arachnid, it’s got 8 altogether) are used for scuttling about.

>>A live Rock lobster” on our front cinderblock wall; note that I do not have my hand nearby for scale. Also note that the entire creature is not in the photo: at least another two-inches of “feeler-leg” is out of frame in the upper right.  (Photo E. Shock)

But, it’s really big.  A few years back, I found one in the garage, all folded up with its legs held close to its flat, broad, segmented body.  Hoping to liberate it back to whence it came (the wash in our yard), I approached it with a glass jar and a postcard.  It saw me and moved a few feet away, very quickly and sideways like a crab.  Then it extended its long front pair of legs and suddenly my Bonne Maman jam jar seemed totally inadequate.  I had to get a plastic Trader Joe’s ginger cookie container and a 9×12″ manila envelope to cap it off with, so as not to crush the lil dude’s end leg segments.  Capturing the fast-moving skitterer involved two of us, a fair amount of herding and chasing, and some undignified screeching as feelers encountered fingers.  An odd sensory relic of this capture is that, having just bought new tires for the Honda, the whole garage smelled strongly of new rubber: the whipscorpion’s shiny black exoskeleton looked like a plausible rubbery source of this odor, and every time I’ve seen one since, my mind’s nose smells new tires.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the “Rock Lobster” — we’re due for a sighting, and this is the perfect time of year to find them abroad on warm Monsoon nights.

Here’s a pleasant fact about tailless whip scorpions, courtesy Wikipedia:

Amblypygids, particularly the species Phrynus marginemaculatus and Damon diadema, are thought to be one of the few species of arachnids that show signs of social behavior. Research conducted at Cornell University by entomologists suggests that mother amblypygids communicate with their young by caressing the offspring with her anteniform front legs. Further, in an experiment where two or more siblings were placed in an unfamiliar environment, such as a cage, they would seek each other out and gather back in a group.

Is that not adorable?

Posted by Allison on Sep 6th 2010 09:50 pm | 4 Comments
| View close in,cool bug!,Invertebrata,natural history,yard list category

4 Responses to “We call it “The Rock Lobster”…”

  1. sueon 07 Sep 2010 at 1:02 pm link comment

    hah–loved the container size analogy. I’m a spider relocator myself, though to look at the corners of my living room you wouldn’t guess. Those cookie containers get repurposed at my house too. I have a recipe for those cookies if you’re interested.

  2. Allisonon 08 Sep 2010 at 10:53 am link comment

    Sue — Even if I were a “squisher” and not a “relocator” the Whip Scorpions are too big to contemplate squishing, urrrghghgh. I shudder to think…

  3. sueon 09 Sep 2010 at 6:59 am link comment

    my English grandmother’s dictum

    If you wish to live and thrive
    Let that spider run alive

    inititated the catch-and-release program at our house.

    The upshot of hearing that repeatedly during childhood is that the only spiders I can bring myself crush (‘squishing’ seems too gentle a term) are black widows, and then I always apologize first. They love to hide on garden impliments–under hose coils, water bucket handles, potting tables, corners of raised beds. “Sorry gal, but there isn’t room for both of us here” >crunch< Luckily they make those telltale sticky webs.

  4. […] Fear me only if you are a springtail, or a mite, or any arthropod smaller than me.  I am the size of a lentil, so although my scissor-like pincers look fierce and outsized for my body, and the pedipalps wielding them are Popeye strong and elbowy, you are a looming threat — I run from the shadows of your hands, and the clicking black boxes you hold over me, by scuttling rapidly backwards across the exposed surface you expect me to sit still on.  I am the pseudoscorpion, an arachnid, little cousin to spiders, solpugids, and amblypygids. […]

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