Scorpions etc.

Scorpions. The Antillean or West Indian fauna.

The Antillean or West Indian archipelago holds a diverse and well known scorpiofauna that includes some of the smallest species in the world. Although these arachnids are usually feared because their painful sting and dangerous toxin, most of the Antillean species are risk-free for humans.

Introduction

Since the beginning of the human civilization scorpions have attracted our attention. As far back as about 5,000 years ago, the Sumerians and later the Babylonians identified as Scorpius (also called Scorpio or Scorpion) one of the twelve constellations that constitute the zodiac. Scorpions were also treated as gods or relevant characters of their mythology by Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Phoenician, Etruscan, Incan, Mayan, Aztecan, and other ancient civilizations. [3]
At the present, scorpions are not only part of the alimentary diet of some African and New World peoples, but they also represent frequent cultural elements in most diverse countries. A good example of that is the permanent reference to them in modern astrological horoscopes, in which Scorpio is the eighth signal and affects those people that were born between October 23th and November 21st.
Viewed from an evolutionary perspective, scorpions are among the oldest terrestrial arthropods. They originated during the Silurian (about 430 millions years BP) having an aquatic life. In those habitats they lived together with sea scorpions (Eurypterida), a chelicerate group that is believed has a very close relationship with scorpions. Later, in the Carboniferous (290–360 millions years B.P.) they became a high diversified terrestrial group with more than 30 identified families (at the present, researchers recognize only 16 families of living scorpions). Gordon’s scorpion page
Among the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea emerges the archipelago of the Antilles, also known as West Indies. This bunch of mostly tropical islands is inhabited by an interesting fauna of scorpions or "alacranes", as they are locally called by Cuban and other Caribbean peoples.
Greater and northernmost islands (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico), together with some neighbouring smaller islands (Bahamas, Turk and Caicos, Cayman, Navassa, Virgin Islands) are known as the Greater Antilles, whereas the easternmost and smaller islands (from Sombrero in the north to Trinidad and Tobago in the south) are known as the Lesser Antilles.
Scorpions are represented in the West Indies by a rich diversity of species belonging to four families (Buthidae, Chactidae, Hemiscorpiidae, and Scorpionidae), 16 genera and almost 150 species, most of them restricted to one or a few islands.
Although scorpions are usually feared because their painful sting and dangerous toxin, most of the West Indian species are risk-free for humans.
The scorpions of the Antillean area are among the best studied in the world, in both taxonomical and biological aspects. This fauna also contains some of the smaller scorpions of the world, as Microtityus fundorai, which male reaches 11–14 mm in total length. The higher record of offspring in a single brood (105) also belongs to an Antillean taxon: the Jamaican buthid Centruroides insulanus.
Although there is not information on the use of scorpions by West Indian pre-Columbian peoples, at the present this arachnid is generally present in the culture of all Caribbean countries.

How many scorpion species are there in the Antillean archipelago?

Scorpions are common animals in the Antillean islands, since the smallest ones (sometimes called keys or cays) to the greatest ones, as Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico. An updated list of this fauna reveals that it contains 149 species belonging to 16 genera and four families, but this is not the global fauna of this geographical area because at least the Greater Antilles contain some new species waiting for description.
Supraspecific composition of this fauna is as follows:

ORDER SCORPIONES C.L. KOCH, 1850
 
SUPERFAMILY BUTHOIDEA C.L. KOCH, 1837
Family Buthidae C.L. Koch, 1837
  • Genus Alayotityus Armas, 1973 (A Cuban endemism; 7 species).
  • Genus Ananteris Borelli, 1910 (one species from Trinidad and Tobago).
  • Genus Centruroides Marx, 1890 (28 species).
  • Genus Isometrus Ehrenberg, 1828 (one introduced species).
  • Genus Microtityus Kjellesvig-Waering, 1966 (24 species).
  • Genus Rhopalurus Thorell, 1876 (10 species from Cuba and Hispaniola).
  • Genus Tityopsis Armas, 1974 (A Cuban endemism; two species,)
  • Genus Tityus C. L. Koch, 1836 (25 species; not present in Cuba nor Jamaica).
SUPERFAMILY CHACTOIDEA POCOCK, 1893
Family Chactidae Pocock, 1893
  • Genus Broteochactas Pocock, 1893 (two species from Trinidad and Tobago).
  • Genus Chactas Gervais, 1844 (one species from Trinidad and Tobago).
SUPERFAMILY SCORPIONOIDEA LATREILLE, 1802
Family Hemiscorpiidae Pocock, 1893
  • Genus Opisthacanthus Peters, 1861 (One species from Hispaniola).
Family Scorpionidae Latreille, 1802
   - Subfamily Diplocentrinae Karsch, 1880
  • Genus Cazierius Francke, 1978 (A Greater Antillean endemism; 12 species).
  • Genus Cryptoiclus Teruel & Kovařík, 2012 (A Cuban endemism; one species).
  • Genus Didymocentrus Kraepelin, 1905 (9 species from Lesser Antilles, and central Cuba).
  • Genus Heteronebo Pocock, 1899 (14 species from Greater Antilles).
  • Oiclus Simon, 1880 (A Lesser Antillean endemism; three species).
 
At least five of the genera (Cryptoiclus, Alayotityus, Tityopsis, Cazierius, and Oiclus) are restricted to the Antilles: the first three are found into the island of Cuba; Cazierius seem to be a Greater Antillean taxon, whereas Oiclus is endemic from the Leeward Islands (Lesser Antilles). [5, 7]
A female Alayotityus juraguaensis from Santiago de Cuba. Photo courtesy of R. Teruel.

A female Cazierius gundlachii from Santiago de Cuba.
The only non-endemic Antillean species are Centruroides edwardsii, Centruroides gracilis, Centruroides guanensis, Centruroides margaritatus, Ananteris cussini, Isometrus maculatus, Tityus clathratus, and Tityus melanostictus. [5, 7]
 
On the other hand, the following species have a very limited geographical distribution and therefore, have small populations too:
  • Heteronebo clareae, only known from a small cave in Navassa Island, a small (5.2 km2) unincorporated U. S. Territory situated 64 km W Hispaniola.
  • Alayotityus delacruzi, restricted to a cave in Santiago de Cuba, in southeastern Cuba.
An interesting case is that of the species Tityus exstinctus, only known from a single specimen from Martinique and, it is presumed, might be an extinct species.
 
The most diverse scorpiofaunas are held by the following islands:
  • Cuba (2 families, 10 genera, 54 species).
  • Hispaniola (3 families, 7 genera, 35 species).
  • Puerto Rico (2 families, 5 genera, 10 species).
  • Trinidad (2 families, 5 genera, 8 species).
  • Jamaica (2 families, 4 genera, 7 species).
  • Martinique (2 families, 4 genera, 5 species).
 
Centruroides (31 species), Tityus (25 species), and Microtityus (24 species) are the most diverse and widespread genera in the Antilles.
In Cuba, Centruroides gracilis, Rhopalurus junceus, Centruroides anchorellus and Centruroides guanensis are the most common species; whereas in Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico the most common species are Centruroides nitidus, Centruroides insulanus, and Centruroides griseus, respectively. In the Windward Islands this place is occupied by Centruroides barbudensis.
A female Centruroides gracilis from Havana.

A female of the Dominican Tityus ottenwalderi. Photo courtesy of A. J, Abud Antun ("Bambán").

Fossil scorpions in the West Indies

The only West Indian fossil scorpions have been found in Dominican amber. They are the following:
 
Family Scorpionidae, subfamily Diplocentrinae
  • Heteronebo sp.
Family Buthidae
  • Centruroides beynai Schawaller, 1979
  • Microtityus ambarensis (Schawaller, 1981).
  • Tityus geratus Santiago-Blay & Poinar, 1988
  • Tityus hartkorni Lourenco, 2009

Habitat and microhabitat

Species of the families Scorpionidae, Hemiscorpiidae and Chactidae, as well as those belonging to the buthid genera Alayotityus and Microtityus mainly inhabit in the ground (leaf litter and soil). Other buthid scorpions live indistinctly on trees (mostly under bark and epiphytic bromeliads) or under stones or fallen trunks, although Tityopsis species prefer ground microhabitats.
Isometrus maculatus, an Asiatic species accidentally introduced in most of the Antillean islands, is largely a synanthropic species and as Centruroides gracilis and Centruroides margaritatus are frequently established into the houses or neighboring them.
The only Antillean scorpions restricted to cave environments (i.e., troglobitics) are Heteronebo clareae from Navassa Island, and Alayotityus delacruzi, from eastern Cuba. The former has ocular reduction and tegument depigmentation, but the latter does not show such troglomorphic characters. However, species of other genera may also be found in both subterranean and epigean habitats.

Dangerous species

The most dangerous Antillean scorpions belong to the family Buthidae, largely to genera Centruroides and Tityus, but most of the accidents caused in these islands by scorpion stinging are of minor importance and generally do not require medical assistance. The exception is Tityus trinitatis from Trinidad Island, a large and dark species that has been reported as responsible of some serious accidents, mainly in children.

Scorpions in the Antillean culture

The scorpions or "alacranes", as they are called by some Spanish speakers, are a frequent element in the culture of the Antillean countries. They may be present in sculptures, pictures, ornamental objects, songs, tattoos, traditional medicine, and other cultural manifestations. Also, in some of these islands the scorpions are incorporate to the folklore in many different ways, such as remedies for stinging (including incantation), tales, and (wrong) beliefs. [1, 2]
A small Cuban artisanal carpet representing a pair of scorpions.

Web Resources

Bibliography (printed)

[1] ARMAS, L. F. DE. 2001.  El alacrán en la cultura cubana contemporánea. Una aproximación. Revista Ibérica de Aracnología 4: 99-103.
Available at: http://www.sea-entomologia.org

[2] ARMAS, L. F. DE . 2011. Scorpions in the modern Cuban culture: An introductory iconography. Euscorpius 116: 1-4
Available at: http://www.science.marshall.edu/fet/Euscorpius

[3] ARMAS, L. F. DE & A. ABUD ANTUN. 2001. El escorpión en la cultura de República Dominicana. Revista Ibérica de Aracnología 1: 77-79.
Available at: http://www.sea-entomologia.org

[4] CLOUDSLEY-THOMPSON, J. L. 1990. Scorpions in mythology, folklore, and history. Pp. 462-485 in The biology of scorpions (G. A. Polis, editor). Stanford University Press, California.

[5] FET, V., W. D. Sissom, G. Lowe & M. E. Braunwalder. 2000. Catalog of the scorpions of the world (1758-1998). New York, The New York Entomological Society.

[6] TERUEL, R. & O. F. FRANCKE. 2006. First record of the scorpion genus Oiclus Simon 1880 (Scorpionidae: Diplocentrinae) from St.-Barthelemy, Lesser Antilles. Boletín de la Sociedad Entomológica Aragonesa., 38: 286.
Available at: http://www.sea-entomologia.org

[7] TERUEL, R. & F. KOVAŘÍK. 2012. Scorpions of Cuba. Clairon Production, Prague. 229 pp.


 

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