Scorpions alive and well in the South Okanagan
Most people would be happy to hear that scorpions are extremely rare in the South Okanagan, but we do have them. In fact, we have several different kinds but little is known about them.
Unfortunately, information on such invertebrates (animals without a backbone) is quite limited due to continued federal and provincial budget cuts to the environmental government bodies in charge of conducting surveys and research. I was, however, able to glean some information from old publications (prior to 1995).
In Canada, the northern scorpion is found only in the very dry and hot valleys of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. This little critter is your typical small, blondish scorpion, but no more dangerous to humans than bees or wasps. They are not known to sting people. Their venom is mild, but allergic reactions are possible from any venom.
It is unlikely for people to see northern scorpions unless actively looking for them. They live in dry, sandy south-facing slopes, under rocks and in tiny burrows. Like most scorpions, they are nocturnal predators, only coming out at night to hunt and feed on insects. If you live on the edge of town, right next to a beautiful desert-like grassland or slope, you might have the rare privilege of seeing one in the fall as they seek warm areas to hibernate.
The other more unique scorpions are called sun scorpions or camel spiders (Family Eremobatidae). These critters are not actually scorpions or spiders, but relatives of them. They are non-venomous but can bite. They are medium-sized invertebrates that look sort of like a scorpion, about 1.5 to 4.5 centimetres long. They have a large head with huge pincer-like jaws. It almost appears as if they have 10 legs, but their front pair is actually long appendages on their head.
Hardly anything is known about the six species of sun scorpions that live in our area. They live in sandy, dry areas, hiding under rocks or in shallow burrows during the day. Like so many of the native invertebrates of the area, sun scorpions are beneficial predators. Coming out at night to hunt insects and small vertebrates, including lizards, they use their large jaws to capture and crush their prey. Along with the many other native predacious invertebrates, they play a vital role in the control of unwanted insects that we consider pests.
Unfortunately, sun scorpions and some of the other native invertebrates of the area are endangered. They are in trouble because of loss or degradation of their habitats. With only about 10 per cent of the South Okanagan grasslands remaining in a relatively natural state, it is no wonder that they are having a hard time surviving.
Our desert-like landscape contains one of the most remarkable grasslands in British Columbia. Many of the native invertebrates that live in this ever-shrinking ecosystem perform essential jobs. Insects including bees, flies, butterflies and beetles play a key role in pollination. They are also food for many animals, thus being a critical part of the food chain. Invertebrates perform many other important roles like creating healthy soil and controlling pests.
Although scorpions are critters that I might not want to see, they have a place in this beautiful landscape, and an important role to play. With our help in conserving grasslands, we can make a difference and keep the South Okanagan an interesting place to live in.
Learn more about our local invertebrates by visiting the Osoyoos Desert Centre just north of Osoyoos off of Highway 97.