The scorpion Apistobuthus pterygocercus is noted for the conspicuous circular secondary segment on its tail. This feature, which is thought to be unique among all known species of scorpion (2), has fascinated scorpion enthusiasts the world over (4).
The body of Apistobuthus pterygocercus is yellow and covered with distinct ridges (3)(5). It boasts long, slender legs with flattened feet exposing long bristles (3). Long lean pincers are used for prey capture, defence and also provide a sense of touch (3)(5).
Located at the posterior end of the scorpion on the underside of the abdomen lie the pectines. The pectines are long comb-like structures which are primarily used as sensory organs. The tip of the tail is bulbous with a long curved stinger (3).
The male Apistobuthus pterygocercus is usually slimmer and lighter than the female and possesses a larger number of teeth on the pectines (45 to 60 teeth) compared to the female (32 to 43 teeth) (3).
A nocturnal hunter, Apistobuthus pterygocercus rests during the day in a burrow, and ventures out at night to feed upon small scorpions and other invertebrates roaming through the sands (3). It is an ‘ambush’ predator that captures prey using its pincers and chelicerae(5). During periods when food is sparse, feeding by ‘engorgement’ may take place, whereby a larger item of prey is captured and subdued by the venom of the scorpion (3).
At the onset of mating, male and female participate in a ‘mating dance’, a classic Promenade à deux. The aim of this dance is to guide the female to a suitable location for sperm transfer to occur. When a suitable location is found, the male releases a spermatophore onto the ground. The female is then guided to hover her genital opening over the male’s spermatophore so as to take up the sperm packet (3)(5). Once sperm transfer is complete, the male and female generally separate (5).
The female gives birth deep inside the burrow. Like most scorpions, the offspring will climb on top of the female’s back until their first moulting, after which they will disperse from the burrow. The young Apistobuthus pterygocercus will go on to lead a solitary existence apart from when mating commences (3)(5).
Apistobuthus pterygocercus occurs in the Rub’al Khali, or Empty quarter, one of the largest sand deserts in the world, which spans the central and southern Arabian Peninsula (3)(6)(7). It also occurs in the Wahiba sands, a desert in Oman, where it is the most abundant dune scorpion species (3).
A sand-loving species, Apistobuthus pterygocercus occurs in tall mobile sand dunes. It often digs its burrows where bush or shrub roots have stabilised the soil, making it better for burrow construction. Foraging occurs out on the soft, unstabilised, wind-swept dunes (3).
There are no known major threats to Apistobuthus pterygocercus, due to its remote location where there is little or no human habitation or activity. However, its dune habitat may be disturbed by off-road recreational vehicles (3).
There are currently no known conservation measures in place for Apistobuthus pterygocercus. Experts propose that if the extensive dune systems of the Arabian Peninsula remain relatively untouched, this species is in no danger. Possible disruptions to dune systems by off-road recreational vehicles may be prevented by establishing officially protected areas in the Rub al’Khali (3).
Pair of appendages on the ‘head’ of an arachnid (a spider, scorpion, mite or harvestman). In spiders and harvestmen, these appendages are jointed and are used to kill prey, or in defence. In spiders there is a poison gland at the base of each chelicera, from which a duct leads to the tip of the fang.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
In insects, a stage of growth whereby the hard outer layer of the body (the exoskeleton) is shed and the body becomes larger.
Active at night.
A capsule or mass of sperm transferred from the male to the female during mating.
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