BY Martin Ough Dealy

I have come across scorpions many times in my life and most times were unpleasant or painful or both! The species is very wide spread and varies in size, colour, energy, habitat, toxicity and sexual habits amongst other things. Some females of the species apparently make a practice of eating their partner whilst mating or shortly after.

The nastiest, with a poison capable of killing an adult human, are generally in the smaller size range, that is about the length of a little finger.. Mexico and Iran are two countries that harbor the most notorious of these animals.

It was in Mexico where I made my first encounter. It was a relatively innocuous experience, but a harbinger of things to come. We were travelling north through some Mexican desert. I cannot remember the exact details of the trip, but it was in the old Ford that my father owned in the 1930’s and we were going somewhere as a family.

You must excuse my vagueness about the details but I was only about 6 at the time and that was over 70 years ago, so my memory of that time is hazy. Nevertheless the memory of the actual encounter is not at all hazy.

We had stopped for a break. As was my father’s wont on such occasions, he had asked anyone if they wanted a "leak" – his way of saying does anyone want to use the toilet?. But being a realist and knowing that in this very empty stretch of road where there was nothing but scrub, dry rock and sand he could hardly ask if anyone wanted to use the toilet! We were simply expected to wander off to a discrete distance, sexes in opposite directions, for relief.

Anyhow, the warning this time was to beware of "Los alacranes y serpientos de cascabel" (scorpions and rattlesnakes to you and me).

So, off I obediently trotted to a convenient bush. This was growing out of a pile of stones. All was hot dry and quiet, really quiet. There was just the occasional crack of expanding stone in the glaring sunshine and the skeletal scuttle of something under one particular large rock. Being of a curious mind I decided to explore and found a stick to lever the rock up with. No sooner had I lifted it than out scuttled a scorpion all aggressive and threatening. It must have been a she as it was surrounded by perhaps half a dozen smaller editions of itself, all also with their tails at the ready and moving about to look as threatening as possible. I wasn’t about to challenge this lot so I dropped the stick and pelted for the car.

The abiding memory was one of fear. I do not know what it was about that she-scorpion, she was really quite small and of a light pale brown colour. But VERY MAD!. There was an aura of evil intent and aggressive energy brooking no nonsense that really put the fear of god into me that day!

Armenia provided another encounter with scorpiones many years later. On this occasion I was living in a local guest house on the outskirts of Yerevan with a distant view of Mount Ararat across the frontier with Eastern Turkey. Like everything in that benighted city just free of the Soviet era, much was badly made, run down and depressing…except for the view of that beautiful mountain. This was especially memorable in the early morning or evening.

Mount Ararat - Viewed from Yerevan
Mount Ararat in the morning

The house was ramshackle and built with whatever materials happened to be available. It was obvious from the lack of right angles and straight edges and the very rough wooden planking for the floors and walls that the house had been built mainly by unskilled hands.
Part of the frame work was made of iron girders that seemed to function as a support for the roof. These had been placed in very close proximity and exposed to the power lines passing overhead in the street outside.

The arrangement was more than somewhat alarming, especially during the violent wind storms that sometimes swept the place. The wind set the power lines swaying in ever increasing arcs until they started touching each other. Sparks literally flew when this happened providing a spectacular show especially at night. I did wonder what happened if the wires ever touched the exposed iron frame of the house. Fortunately that never occurred during my stay and the owners simply ignored the threat.

But they certainly did not ignore the threat posed by scorpions in the house. Our hosts had warned us that scorpions did live in the place and liked to hide in dark dry places. It was an important morning ritual to check our clothing and footwear especially to make sure no scorpions had taken up residence during the night.

Once I did discover a scorpion in residence under my bed. It shot out at an amazing speed and disappeared into one of the many gaps between the floor boards. Once the alarm was raised there was a real hue and cry. There was no question but that the scorpion had to be found and killed. Everyone in the house got involved. The locals really feared these 8 legged monsters, probably with good reason as they were related to the deadly variety that lived across the border in Iran.

I am glad to say that the upshot was the eventual capture and execution of the scorpion, but not before the poor thing had been chased several times from one hideaway to another. I have never seen a creature move as fast as it did, nor one that generated such fear and loathing. I guess local experience more than justified the need to kill it…….

Indonesia was where I had my most painful encounter with scorpiones. It happened in somewhat unusual circumstances but the most beautiful of surroundings.

In the mid eighties Minnie and I were on assignment in Java. We had discovered a lovely place on the western coast along the Sunda Straits to escape to from the heat and scrum of crowded Jakarta.

It was a beach side hotel by the name of Cerita. This so called resort consisted of about half a dozen small huts styled as bungalows. These were quite simple affairs built in the local fashion with a basic wooden frame and palm tree fronds for the walls and roof. Each bungalow consisted of a bedroom set on a wooden platform, a small ablutions area where there was a shower and concrete floor and a tiny kitchen. The huts were about 20 meters above the high water mark on an idyllic sandy beach that looked out over the sea to the remains of the infamous Krakatau Volcano.

Your knowledge of history will tell you that the original volcano blew up in 1883 creating a huge tsunami that devastated the western end of Java and generated dust clouds that continued to circulate around the earth for years after.....

Anak Krakatoa 1984

Anyhow we were there for a long weekend with friends Tony and Margaret Cole. Tony was the Military Attaché at the UK embassy. A Wing Commander in the RAF Tony was a typical unflappable Englishman who took most things in his stride with calmness and aplomb, a wonderful character.

It was my habit then to go for a before breakfast swim whenever possible. Nothing better than to get out of bed in the still coolness of the tropical morning, climb into bathing trunks, run the short distance across the beach and dive into the tepid clear water.

I had hung my bathing trunks on a wooden hook in the ablution area the night before. The hook was part of a palm frond that had been used to form the wall between the bedroom and the shower and just the right place to hang bathing trunks to dry.

So, feeling full of energy I jumped out of bed, shot into the shower area and without thinking put my swimming togs on. I quickly ran across the beach and dived into the welcoming water to perform the morning ritual.

Then I was subjected to a pain that I will never want to experience again. It was as if a pair of red hot pincers had attacked my groin. Excruciating is the only word to describe the sensation. It was awful! The source was somewhere in my togs and I did the only thing I could think of in my panic and urgent need to rid myself of the torture., I tore off my togs to reveal a scorpion with sting firmly imbedded close, oh so close to that part of my body guaranteed to be most sensitive. In my agony and violent gyrations to be rid of this beast I pulled it off with my togs and threw it with the precious guardians of my privacy into the sea.

It took me a while to regain any sort of equilibrium. Through the stinging pain I realized I was now naked as on the day of my birth, but at least I could preserve my dignity as long as I remained in the water. The dilemma now was how to get back to the bungalow for help and avoid the embarrassment and loss of face caused by my enforced nakedness. No doubt my cries of agony had aroused the curiosity of the few people on the beach.

Cerita Beach, Sunda Strait, Western Java
Margaret Cole and Minnie  - Cerita Beach Hotel 1984

But no one in my hut took any notice whatsoever of my predicament. I could see Minnie and Tony in the kitchen. They were, I suppose, about to prepare breakfast and were too busy to make anything out of my energetic waving from within the water.

Tony eventually did notice me and waved back in a friendly sort of way. I suppose he thought I was inviting him to join me for the early morning dip but being disinclined, he went back to preparing breakfast.

It took some minutes of further frantic waving and shouting on my part to get their attention again. Eventually Minnie sauntered down to the edge of the water to find out what I was on about. She went back and then Tony came down to see what he could do

Still frantic with pain it was quite impossible to really explain what the problem was. I just asked him to get me another pair of swimming togs. He looked rather surprised that I should need them. I suppose he thought that it was part of my eccentric ritual of a pre breakfast swim to throw away a perfectly good pair of swimming togs and then to prance about in the altogether. But being phlegmatic and a good friend he went back to get them.

In a few minutes he returned bearing a nice dry pair of togs and waded out to where I was hiding my embarrassment in water at a reasonable depth where the surf waves were breaking. I was timing my leaping up and down to synchronize with the waves and so preserve what was left of my dignity. Tony, for some reason thought it important to deliver the togs in a dry condition and so waded out holding them well above his head and clear of the water. I am not sure whether he was doing this to draw attention to me embarrassed state, or whether he really thought I could do with a dry pair!

Anyhow, I rather desperately grabbed the swimming trunks from Tony’s outstretched hand and managed to put them on to hobble back with his help to the privacy of the beach hut.

By this time of course, Tony realized that there was something really the matter with me and did his best to help. So too did Minnie and Margaret come to my aid. But there was really nothing much to be done except to rest and recuperate with the aid of some pain killers. I spent the rest of the day somewhat the worse for took all of 24 hours to regain composure and recover.

We got back to Jakarta safely in the end, thanks to the kind ministrations of Tony, Margaret and Minnie. But we all returned with a new awareness of the dangers posed by scorpions and their kind.

Mind you I cannot blame the poor thing that had thought my drying swimming togs a good place to spend the night. I too would have stung like fury if I were suddenly dragged onto exposed flesh and then immersed in sea water to the point of drowning!

Dromopoda Scorpiones - Framed!
Early morning swim - Cerita
Copyright M.& M.M. Ough Dealy 2007-2011

This page last modified on Monday, October 10, 2011