On Scorpion Dwellings:

Continued from:  Discovering Jean-Henri Fabre

As I read on, Fabre explains in detail, the anatomy of the scorpion.  The eight eyes, the tail, the stinger, and the pincers, which he likens to the hands of a blind man, extending forward as the scorpion walks to explore and gather information.  Then I read of something new to me: “…underneath, just behind the legs, are the combs, those strange organs…” (10).  The combs, or pectines, are a pair of appendages that extend out along the belly of the scorpion, near the genitals.  A long of row of spines or teeth follow the edge of each appendage, literally like a comb.

The scorpion combs/pectines:


Fabre explains that other scientists during his time believe these structures are for griping during mating.  Fabre, however, is suspicious of this and observes the combs as a sort of balancing pole that a tight rope walker might use, watching the combs sweep across substrate as the scorpion walks.  He suggests that the combs are for balancing (at least).  Since this book was published in 1923, I decide to turn to Google for an update.

On this blog, a Bob Crean, explains that they are chemosensory structures and that their use is still a little unclear to scientists.

John Melville in 2000, details the pectines in an entire dissertation:

“The function of this organ has remained enigmatic for more than a century.  Previous investigators speculated that the pectines were tactile, olfactory, or vibration detectors while others believed they were used in respiration, reproduction, and birthing (Carthy, 1968; Root, 1990 for review).  The majority of recent studies have supported Schroder’s hypothesis (1908) that scorpions use the pectines to monitor the mechanical and chemical properies of substrates.”  (2)

Melville, John M (2000). The pectines of scorpions: analysis of structure and function.  (Doctoral dissertation).  Retrieved from OSU.  (Accession Order No. 2010-03-29T19:36:48Z).

On keeping scorpions as pets:

For the purpose of fully immersing himself in observing the scorpions in their natural state, Fabre spends a good deal of time figuring out how to properly house his specimens.  He experiments with a number of different enclosures.  His scorpions are better at escaping than he realized.  His best method for keeping the scorpions, is a built glass aquarium tank, or “luxurious Crystal Palace” (29) or “glazed prison” (26), which sits right outside his front door.  Keep in mind, aquariums were not exactly commercially available in 1923, so he had to have a “joiner” and a “glazier,” help build one for him.

Another one of his methods, is simple capture and tender relocation to his backyard.  His free roaming scorpions, eventually disappear to his dismay:

“The open-air community, on which I based my fondest hopes, becomes rapidly depopulated; its inhabitants make off, vanish I know not whither.  All my seeking fails to recover a single one of these runaways.” (23)

He also establishes a colony indoors on his table, with comfortable sand and potsherd abodes for the scorpions, and covered securely with a wire cage, he notes.

Word of the day, thanks to Fabre:
– a broken piece of ceramic material.

Source: Fabre, J.H.  The Scorpion. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1923. Print.


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