The Vinegaroon Whip Scorpion (Mastigoproctus Giganteus)
Text, editing and additional research by Michiko Manalang
Original research and interview by Nyza Faustine Ho
To non-fanciers, it may look like something that crawled out of Dungeons and Dragons. (Or possibly hell.) But for an invert enthusiast, this might be exactly the kind of thing you’re looking for in a pet.
In spite of its appearance, the whip scorpion, or the vinegaroon, is generally harmless. With its poor eyesight and complete lack of venom, it’s a pretty gentle creature—unless, of course, you’re a smaller bug.
While it also looks like some kind of shiny new hybrid of crab and spider, it actually predates both creatures, and doesn’t seem to have very much to do with either of them.
Truth be told, it’s a little inaptly named in that it’s not a scorpion at all, especially where the tail is concerned. Instead of having a stinger at the end, the tail functions mostly as a balancing appendage rather than as an offensive weapon.
That’s not to say that the vinegaroon is completely unarmed, as its rear end can release a concentrated acid spray—very similar to vinegar (hence the nickname) and a fairly effective natural solvent—in just about any direction; if it really wanted to, it could probably aim for your eyes. However, this is primarily used for self-defense rather than anything aggressive, like hunting for food.
If push comes to shove though, the creature just might bite or pinch, much as a spider or a crab would.
Like many of its arthropod cousins, the whip scorpion has eight legs—the front two of which are used more like feelers than actual legs—and an exoskeleton it has to shed a few times throughout its life as it grows. During these molting periods, it is especially vulnerable, and is likely to burrow more than usual in an attempt to hide, at least until the new exoskeleton hardens.
HE CAN DIG IT, SHE CAN DIG IT
Wondering why you’ve never seen one? Fear not, it is neither rare nor endangered–it’s just nocturnal, and probably wouldn’t thrive in metropolitan areas. But to find one in your own home, in the immortal words of Tom Jones, is not unusual. (Disclaimer: Not that he has anything to do with bugs of any sort.) Even if you did go looking for them at night, vinegaroons tend to be quite shy—wouldn’t you be, if a hulking biped came poking around your turf!—and would rather hide in their burrows.
Their burrows are as much of a home as you can imagine: aside from lying perfectly still in them, (and let’s be honest–these days, who doesn’t want to sit motionless in their own personal burrow?) male whip scorpions in particular like to bring their well-earned lady friends home during the mating season.
The female will then carry up to three dozen eggs under her arched abdomen for about three months, and her young can (and probably will) ride on her back for as long as they are dependent on her. This is a little unusual in that the mother will look after them until their first molting, and in Bug Time, that’s pretty long.
Naethan Alonzo is an experienced vinegaroon keeper with much insight into how these creatures might enrich both your life and terrarium.
Q: How did you find out that the vinegaroon can be a fascinating pet?
Way back in 2010, when I was keeping my longimanus scorpions, I saw a picture of [a] giant vinegaroon on the internet, and I spoke to other hobbyists here in Manila [to ask] if we had that kind of species—and [I] found out that we have the local species of vinegaroon. [It] really looked the same as the one [in] the picture of giant vinegaroon from the US [that I’d seen]. Then I started keeping our own species of vinegaroon.
I got [three adults, between two and a half to three inches in size], found mainly in Bulacan. I kept [them] for about six months. They were very active in eating some of my roaches and they got fat. I even saw them squirting some vinegar from their flagellum… but then they never grew up into the sizes stated in the online articles that I have read. I even asked some of my friends who tried to catch a bigger one, but no one ever saw any vinegaroon bigger than three inches, so therefore I think it’s a different species from the one found in the United States of America.
Q: What makes the vinegaroon unique compared to other invertebrate pets?
The vinegaroon has its antenniform or whip, which is actually its first leg. It uses its whip like a blind man uses his stick while walking… When stressed or threatened, it will spray vinegar from its tail… If you [can], imagine the smell of the most sour vinegar pouring onto your face [laughs]. I tell you, any predator will stay away.
Oh, another thing is the way that you gender them. I have a funny way of gendering them: I call it the “swimming trunks” and the “bikini”. [laughs] If you are to gender them, you have to place them in a clear glass—I [use] a beaker—then [gently] push them using a [piece of] foam. [On the underside] you will see at the middle part; [if it is shaped like an inverted triangle]… like it’s wearing a bikini, then you have a female. When you see a square, [like] it’s wearing trunks, then you have a male.
Q: Do you think the Vinegaroon is dangerous in any way?
If you have an allergy to the smell of the vinegar! [laughs] Well, it doesn’t have any other way to harm you; its tiny pedipalps (claws) can’t even hold your fingertip.
Q: Do you think the Vinegaroon is okay as an educational pet for kids?
For kids, I think, it’s for their eyes only… kids should not handle this species, even if it is not venomous. For students, yes, [with] its body structure, [and] its unique [way] of defending itself–and I think we have a lot to learn about vinegaroons. Some aren’t even identified properly yet.
Q: Is there anything people should watch out for when keeping them?
No, it feeds on insects that are pests [when it comes to] our livelihood, like crickets and locusts, which eat our food crops. They are actually [more] beneficial to humans than harmful.
Q: What is the main diet of the Vinegaroon in captivity?
I feed them with a variety of cultured insects–like roaches, crickets and worms (beetle larvae). Do not feed them a wild-caught insect, [because] you’ll never know if [these] were sprayed by insect killer until it’s too late… it [will kill] your vinegaroon as well.
Q: What traits do Vinegaroons have that made you enjoy keeping them as pets?
As an enthusiast I enjoy watching them eat. But most of the time they dig burrows. lf you are new [at] keeping one, you have to dig their substrate to see if they are still there.
Q: Can the Vinegaroon be kept in a communal setup?
I actually kept them in a communal set up, but I separated them by sizes, because [the smaller ones might get eaten].
Q: What kind of enclosure/set up is the most suitable for the Vinegaroons in the Philippines?
A terrarium, with a coco peat substrate at least to two inches deep, as they are good diggers; a [piece of] bark that will be their feeding ground–because if you put in some roaches, the roaches will climb on to the bark and that is where they are hunted by the vinegaroons. [A] tropical climate must be simulated in the enclosure to prevent stress [to] the vinegaroon. [And make sure there is enough moisture] in the substrate, since they drink from it sometimes.
Q: What is the maximum size of the Vinegaroons found in the Philippines?
[From] 2010 up to now, [I’ve] never heard of someone [catching or raising] a vinegaroon in captivity that grew larger than three inches from tip to tip. I [have to think that this is] the maximum size of the local vinegaroon species that we have here.
Q: Have you ever tried breeding the Vinegaroon? Was the breeding attempt successful in captivity?
Well, I saw one in my terrarium–a female carrying [eggs underneath her], and after few weeks, hatchlings were already on its back, I think [about eight to ten of them]. Though they were wild caught, I never saw them mate. So that female was probably mated when it was still in the wild.
This appeared in Animal Scene’s November 2016 issue.