The Yellow-Tailed Scorpion (Euscorpius flavicaudis) has managed to set up at least one thriving colony in an isolated area of England Despite the generally cool and mild climate here in the UK . These scorpions have occasionally been found at several coastal towns across the south of England over the years but the best known and most successful site is on the Isle of Sheppy in Kent where the dock-land town of Sheerness. This Yellow-Tailed Scorpion population has an estimated size of up to 10-15,000 specimens! This population was the first ever recorded in the UK way back in the 1860’s.  The Yellow Tailed Scorpion has been living in the south-facing walls, rock crevices, abandoned buildings and railway sleepers of these docks for well over 150 years now. It is widely accepted that they originally found there way into the UK accidentally as stowaways amid shipments of Italian masonry.




Although the majority of the Sheerness scorpions live within the relative safety of the private docks some can be found on the South-facing wall that surrounds the docks, which is acessible to the public. Other reported possible sightings of these scorpions  have come from Harwich Docks, Pinner, Tilbury Docks, Portsmouth Docks and Southampton Docks as well as Whitemoor and Ongar Underground Station but none have populations as long established and successful as Sheerness. The scorpion population at Ongar Underground Station was once featured in a report by the BBC back in the 1970's but this is now reported to have been a hoax orchestrated by the station foreman who deliberately released scorpions bought from a local pet shop.





The Yellow-Tailed Scorpions are the most northerly species of scorpion in the world and it is their tolerance to cold temperatures that has allowed them to thrive in the UK's cooler climate. 

During the day these nocturnal scorpions can be almost impossible to find as they hide themselves away in the smallest of gaps and cracks in the rocks and bricks that they make their home.



 


The Yellow-Tailed Scorpion is fairly small reaching sizes of around two inches in length (including tail and claws) but they are often smaller. It has large pincers for its size and a small stinging tail. This tail can only deliver a very mild sting to a human. The Yellow-Tailed Scorpion is usually very reluctant to use its sting and the effect is said to be comparable to that of a mild bee sting at worse and usually poses no threat to healthy adults although medical advice should be sought if you feel unwell following a sting. I have handled several of these scorpions myself with bare hands and have never experienced any signs of aggressive or defensive behaviour from any of them.

These scorpions hide themselves away for most of their lives becoming active only to feed and breed usually on warm evenings although I have seen them active in February in small numbers. They feed on insects and spiders that come within range but because of their incredibly slow metabolism it is thought that they may only need to feed as few as 4-5 times a year during the summer months.



Scorpions are easiest to find at night once it is dark. Under a UV lamp scorpions glow bright turquoise and can easily be spotted hiding in rock crevices. It is not understood exactly how scorpions could benefit from glowing under UV light but it is known that the fluorescence is caused by the accumulation of a chemical called beta-carboline in the exoskeleton, which glows under UV light. One theory is that this florescence may help to shield scorpions from harmful UV rays emitted by the sun by converting UV light into harmless visible light. Another possible theory is that this emitted glow from UV light could attract moths and other insects that scorpions prey upon.





As scorpions grow they periodically shed their hard exoskeleton in one complete shell. The few hours following a shed of the old exoskeleton is quite a dangerous time for the scorpion until the new soft shell hardens up. The old discarded shell still glows under UV light however the new shell will not glow immediately but the fluorescence slowly returns as the scorpion ages.






Scorpions are not insects. They have eight walking legs and are classed along with spiders in the Arachnida class. They are very basic creatures and early fossil records show that scorpions have been walking on the earth for over 400 million years!




 


Despite the dangerous reputation that scorpions have due to their venomous sting out of the 1000+ species of scorpion across the world it is thought that only about 25-40 of these species pose a serious threat to humans if stung.




 


Yellow-Tailed Scorpions are not generally a communal species and cannibalism can occur if keeping more than one of these scorpions in the same enclosure. Following mating the gestation period of the female scorpion is between 10 and 14 months depending on the temperature and the quantity and quality of food available. The female then gives birth to live scorplings ranging from 4-30 individuals that are born soft and white.




 


Scorpions have a very basic digestive system. All prey is caught using the powerful pincers and then brought to the jaws where it is effectively chopped into very fine particles and reduced to liquid form that can be sucked up into the mouth of the scorpion. As with snakes the venom of the scorpion not only stuns or kills its prey but also aids with the digestion process.




 

Ongar Underground Station scorpions

The scorpion population at Ongar Underground Station was once featured in a report by the BBC back in the 1970's but this "wild" population of scorpions was later reported by The Independent to have been a hoax orchestrated by the station foreman who deliberately released five scorpions bought from a local pet shop in Camden. The scorpions may have bred or one of the released specimens may have been a gravid female but some former employees at the Railway Station and some visitors and local residents claim the end result was a small population of more than a dozen scorpions that lived in the brickwork of the station for several years.


The Independent Newspaper article Sunday 9th July 1995

"At its peak in 1971, 750 passengers were making the return trip. But even then the track was hardly an economic proposition although the staff did their utmost to drum up business. In 1965, an Ongar station foreman bought five (harmless) European scorpions in a Camden pet shop and let them loose in his goods yard. This formed the basis of one of the few scorpion colonies in Britain, which became an attraction. The staff kept quiet about its real origins, and encouraged speculation that it arrived in a banana van in the 1860s."


Dean Sullivan, a former employee at Ongar Railway Station claimed on 'www.districtdavesforum.co.uk' that when David Attenborough arrived with a film crew to record the Ongar Railway scorpion population they were unable to find any specimens. This former employee also claims that the film crew brought their own scorpions which they filmed and claimed were found living at the Ongar Railway Station.  See report here.


Wikipedia.org - Ongar Railway Station

"The sand drag at the very end of the rails — intended to help slow trains that overshot the stopping mark — was said to be home to a breed of harmless scorpion and featured in a 1979 episode of the BBC's Wildlife On One. They had been released there by a station foreman who was a keeper of exotic pets."



 
















 

All Photographs on this page were taken using the Canon 40D camera and the Canon 100mm 2.8IS, Canon 70-300mm IS L, and Canon 17-85mm IS lenses.




 

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