Sunday, April 1, 2012

Australia Is Not for the Squeamish

What a weekend it's been.  The first thing I encountered when I arrived at the shed was the peculiar absence of any Redbacks.  Instead I was assaulted by a pong that no living thing could emit.

"Pong" is an Australian word that means a stench, smell, or bad odour.  This might explain why the video game industry had difficulty getting established in Australia after its disastrous first attempt.

The reason for the bad smell was immediately obvious.  My rodent bait blocks appear to be doing their job.  These two little fellows had the decency to "shuffle off" out in the open instead of crawling up inside the walls or furniture.  This way I could find them and give them a proper burial. Their rodent souls may have gone to heaven but their essence remains with us here below.  It took me hours to air out the Shed.

While I waited for the air to clear, I got busy building.  There is a chill in the air and winter isn't far off.  This brick hearth is for the wood stove I acquired last year, but was unable to use.  I finally found a flue for it in a building salvage yard, and the brickwork will contribute by holding the heat in longer.

But the most fun I had on this trip was a discovery I've been looking forward to since I last wrote about the abundant wildlife in and around the Shed during the peak of summer.  The alert reader may recall that I had thoroughly squashed a scorpion and was therefore unable to use it as a photographic specimen.  Well, this weekend I found another specimen!  This time, I held my stomping reflex in check.

I immediately recognized the terror-inducing primeval shape from across the room.  I got excited and prepared for the catch.  One useful thing I learned from my ex, a field entomologist, was how to really kill stuff dead while keeping it in one piece.  In one hand I grasped the BBQ tongs, and in the other I held a wide-mouth glass jar (ex-pickles) with a few inches of methylated alcohol in it.  All I had to do was grab the scorpion with the tongs and drop it into the alcohol.  Within seconds it would be perfectly preserved.

Not without some disappointment did I discover that the scorpion was already dead. Probably from the pong of dead mice engulfing the Shed.

Anyhow, for your viewing pleasure I can finally present to you, in full color, Scorpion Fluorescence.  Enjoy!

The Fluorescent Properties of Urodacus novaehollandiae under UV Illumination.

Get your very own  Ultraviolet Flashlight HERE.  Disclaimer: use of your UV flashlight may or may not be accompanied by weird sci-fi sounds and/or applause.  It all depends upon how AWESOME you are.


  1. really killing stuff dead while keeping it in one piece is a skill with many practical applications, right?

    1. Well, let's see . . . there's 'impressing one's friends,' 'making things easier to cook and serve,' 'ease of disposal,' 'identification for scientific/taxation purposes,' 'providing specimens for museums,' . . . yes, I believe that constitutes many and practical.

  2. Brilliant!

    But why pray-tell do they fluoresce...I knew that they did but it just occurred to me just now to wonder what this adaptation means and whats the biochemical mechanism by which they produce this effect?

    - me (of course)

    1. Didn't you thoroughly study the graphic in the video???

      Well, the exoskeleton (shell) of a scorpion contains chemical compounds like beta-carboline which give it fluorescent properties, meaning that short wavelength UV light is absorbed by the electron cloud of those molecules and then re-emitted as longer (visible)wavelength. This happens because the electron falls back to its rest state in two low-energy jumps rather than in one big high-energy jump which would merely re-emit the same UV light again.

      Interestingly, the older the scorpion is, the more fluorescent it is, owing to its shell being thicker at each stage of maturity.

      The interesting question is not really how, but WHY. Why are scorpions fluorescent? What possible evolutionary advantage could glowing under man-made UV lights possibly bestow upon the wee beasties, which have a life span of 4 - 25 years (yikes!!!), and have been crawling all around this planet for at least 430,000,000 years?

      Biologists do not currently have a definitive answer to this. It is a MYSTERY!

      To be fair, there are lots of things that are fluorescent strictly by accident rather than on purpose. Tennis balls, tonic water (quinine), calcite, vitamin B12, hexavalent uranium and gasoline are some items that you should definitely check out with your own UV light at home, kids!

      (If your gasoline turns blue under UV light, then you've got Anthracene, baby, a benzene polymer which actually changes its shape when exposed, and then flips back to normal a few nanoseconds later!)