Friday, July 15, 2011

Pseudoscorpion on the ComposTumbler

Today was a big gardening day. Lots of weeding, lots of stuff going into the compost. Before I got started on that, I decided to empty my thirteen-year-old ComposTumbler and use the finished compost to mulch my tomatoes.

I had to hack my way through a jungle of Rose of Sharon to get to the front access hatch of the tumbler, and then scooped out the contents using an old pot that was retired from service years ago. The compost had finished nicely: crumbly, fine-grained, smell-free, with only a few of the compost balls that tend to form from the tumbling action of the ComposTumbler. I left some of it in the tumbler, partly to serve as a starter for the next batch of compost, partly because it was too hard to reach in and scoop everything out.

I was in the process of refilling the tumbler with some freshly-picked weeds and a pail full of kitchen scraps when I noticed a tiny insect on the side of the ComposTumbler. It looked like just some garden-variety insect critter except for one thing: it had two extensions on the front that looked for all the world like the claws of a scorpion.

I looked closer, thankful that my bifocals allowed me to focus on tiny things at close range, and saw...that I was going to need to grab my camera.

Yep, they were claws all right, not antennae or supersized mandibles. This guy looked for all the world like a scorpion without a tail or stinger. I made sure my Nikon Coolpix L4 was set to macro/closeup mode and leaned in to get a few photos.

With my left index finger for size comparison.

"RAWR! I am teh scary! I haz CLAWS!"

A few seconds of searching online (hours later, after much weeding and a very long shower) revealed that this is (shockingly enough) a pseudoscorpion, an ancient arachnid that traces its history back at least 380 million years. It is commonly found near compost heaps, especially "spent" compost heaps which have finished the business of composting, where it waits to catch and kill various insects, and occasionally hitch a flight on one! It is also found in dusty libraries (hence the alternate name "book scorpion") where it preys on insects that feed on books. Altogether a remarkable and beneficial critter to have around.

To get these photos I had to have my camera lens less than an inch away from the dear little pseudoscorpion. It reacted to the proximity of the camera, or me, or maybe just the flash, and it turned and moved and waved its claws at me. After a while I was done taking photos, took my camera back inside the house, and got back to  the business of weeding. The pseudoscorpion stayed in place throughout the afternoon and into the evening. At the end of the day, as the twilight was fading into darkness, I put my last load of weeds into the ComposTumbler and gave it the recommended three spins. I checked to see if my new arachnid friend was still hanging on. It was.

All my life I've been keeping my eyes open, always trying to notice interesting things, yet in all this time I have never before seen a pseudoscorpion. How many more fascinating things are out there waiting to be seen for the first time - maybe in my own back yard?

More stuff about pseudoscorpions:
Ticks - Mites - "False Scorpions" Flickr - Photo Sharing!


Joy said...


WOW! Your pictures are wonderful. Have you considered sending them to I've never seen or heard of these. Thanks for the shot with your finger so we could get a sense of his size. Would be a terrifying sight if it was much bigger.

Yes, the world is full of wonders, if only we really see what is around us.

Stephen Albert said...

Hey, great stuff on the psuedoscorpion...very fascinating! Great pictures as well, as I know how difficult the macro photography can be with something that small.

D.B. Echo said...

Joy, I was thinking about whatsthatbug the whole while I was taking photos. But a Google image search for "false scorpion" turned up tons of photos of this fellow. I had just been reading up on other false scorpions, like whip scorpions and camel spiders, so I was surprised I hadn't already known about this one.

Stephen, thank you! This camera can be very annoying with where it chooses to focus during macro shots. I have lots of perfectly-centered images of flowers that are completely out of focus, while things in the background are in sharp focus. This is a snapshot camera, so there's no option for locking the focus or setting it manually. The focal plane is so tight that I have some shots of this critter where the front and back are slightly out of focus, but the midsection is sharp and clear!

...tom... said...


Dude . . .you need a manicure..!!



P.S. Pretty cool 'capture'. Makes my recent centipedes and spiders pale in comparison..!!

D.B. Echo said...

That's a workin' man's index finger!

You have centipede and spider pictures? I wanna see!!!