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Tailless Whip Scoprions: Amblypigids Video


What is a Tailless whip scorpion? (Taxonomy):

Tailless whip scorpions (often called whip spiders), are scientifically referred to as amblypigids because they belong to the order Amblypigi. They have been given the name tailless whip scorpions because of their lack of a tail (telson).  In fact, “amblypigid” means “blunt rump”.

Amblypygids are arachnids.    Spiders, scorpions, mites, daddy longlegs and other less well-known groups (see diagram below) are their closest living relatives.

Arachnid taxonomy

Amblypygids are unique in that they have six walking legs, whereas other arachnids have eight. The reason for this is that amblypygids' first “ancestral" walking legs have been modified into sensory organs.  These long sensory “feelers” can be twice the length of the body and are used to probe the environment. Because amblypygids are active in environments where there is very little light, these modified “legs” are extremely important to them for sensing their surroundings.

Another distinguishing feature of amblypygids is their pincer-like pedipalps.  These structures act like the “claws” of the preying mantis or the mantid shrimp.  Amblypygids use them to grasp prey, which are then brought into the body to be sliced by their shearing mouthparts (called chelicerae).

Distribution:

Currently there are 5 families, 17 genera and 136 species of amblypigids found around the world in tropical and subtropical climates.  Part of the reason whip spiders have so many myths surrounding them is that European and North American writers lacked first-hand experiences with amblypygids, which are not found in temperate zones.


History:

Amblypygids have been poorly understood creatures throughout history, and continue to be misunderstood today.  In some places where amblypyids are found, local people are afraid of them, and consider them to be highly dangerous.  For example, on a visit to the Seychelles in 1872, one biologist was told by locals that amblypygid bites would cause swelling of the body, cramps and vomiting, and that if not treated with ammonia, these would ultimately result in prolonged illness or death.  On viewing specimens brought to Europe from tropical localities, some scientists were equally fearful.  One of the first authors to describe amblypygids wrote that they might be capable of inflicting severe wounds with their pedipalps, and might even cause death with their bite.

Yet the oddest thing about these scary looking creatures is that they are completely harmless.  They have no way of inflicting stings, or in any way hurting a human being.  Amblypygids do not have venom, and their formidable pedipalps are used solely for the capturing small prey like tiny crickets crawling on tree trunks.
Even today, popular media has made no effort to discredit the myth that amblypygids are dangerous to humans. For instance, in the movie version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, an amblypygid is described as "lethal" by Mad-eye Moody, who tortures the animal with a curse until Hermione begs him to stop.

Amblypigids make other rare appearances on television because of their unusual “shocking” appearance.  In the show "Fear factor," contestants were forced to eat these creatures, proving that humans are much more dangerous to amblypygids than amblypygids are to us. 

 


Activity Patterns:

The vast majority of amblypigids are nocturnal, meaning that they are active only at night.  During the day they hang out in crevices in trees or underneath rocks. Some amblypygids can also be found living in caves. 

Male-Male fight rituals:

Males of the same species have extremely interesting ways of establishing dominance.  When unfamiliar individuals encounter one another, they engage in a kind of "fighting" behavior.  Individuals typically display their pedipalps to each other, and flick one another with their long first legs.  Sometimes these fights escalate, and males make full contact with their bodies and push against each other.  Fights end when one animal either retreats or allows his opponent to step over him. If a winner and loser are kept together after fighting, the loser will avoid the winner and/or perform submissive gestures to avoid another battle.

Reproduction:

Amblypigid parental care is extremely fascinating.  Juveniles cling to their mother's abdomen for several days after birth.  Up until they molt and leave their mother's care, "baby" amblypygids are generally white, and thus it is quite obvious when mothers have just given birth to young.

Who studies Amblypigids?

Very little is known about whip scorpions.  There are probably only about a dozen people in the world that are actively researching any aspect of their lives.  This particular Ecogeeks episode was based on research by Eben Gering, whose work is a branch of research conducted by Dr. Eileen Hebets.  Other knowledgeable amblypygid researchers include Peter Weygoldt, Rainer Foelix, Linda Rayor and Jeffrey Schultz.

Text Edited by Eben Gering*


eben gering READ MORE ABOUT EBEN GERING!
Find out what Eben does on a typical day and what advice he has for future biologists.

 

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