The genus Liocheles is comprised of 10 species of small to medium-sized scorpions distributed widely from Southeast Asia to New Guinea and Queensland in northern Australia. Liocheles is a member of the scorpion family Hemiscorpiidae, which also includes the popular flat rock scorpions from the genus Hadogenes, and are instantly recognizable for their long and slender pedipalps, flattish claws, and slender metasomas.

This array of distinctive features allows scorpions from this family to squeeze into very narrow crevices from which they can ambush prey. As such, their tails are relatively degenerated and thus are very rarely used, especially for defense. Two species from the Philippines are currently known: Liocheles australasiae and Liocheles waigiensis.

These scorpions are rarely offered for sale, particularly the latter species. Liocheles australasiae is sometimes available from time to time, but as wild caught specimens. Due to their ease of reproduction, a conscientious keeper may want to breed this species in captivity so that extracting specimens from the wild will no longer be necessary.

Liocheles waigiensis is a very rare species in captivity, and the danger here is that once a scorpion is discovered by a poacher, an entire population can be practically wiped out due to the propensity of this species to form small and compact colonies. Captive breeding introduces this species into the hobby without placing the wild populations at risk.

 

Liocheles australasiae

WHAT: Known as Dwarf Wood Scorpions, this species is often found in the leaf axils of coconut trees and are thus classified as arboreal when their hosts have attained great heights. However, they can also be found on the ground, beneath and in between chinks of rocks, and other debris on the forest floor.

WHEN THREATENED: When disturbed, they only make staccato moves sideways, and only when persistently harassed will they make a quick dash for an escape. In extreme duress, they fold their claws and legs inwards and freely fall down to play dead; this behavior can be interpreted as a means to dissuade potential predators from consuming them, as most predators are induced to feeding only on struggling prey. These are very non-defensive scorpions, predisposed neither to pinching nor stinging.

SUBSTRATE: In captivity, only a thin layer of moisture-retentive substrate such as coco dust with leaf mold will do. Pieces of bark, laid either horizontally or vertically against the terraria walls, should be provided to provide security to the scorpions.

COMMUNITY: Because they are known to live communally in nature, one can maintain multiple individuals in just one enclosure.

WATER REQUIREMENTS: Light misting every two nights should be sufficient to keep them hydrated.

FEEDING: Because of their size, they require small prey, but only those that cannot move very fast, as they are used to snatching prey that are also squeezed in inside their burrows or slits.

BREEDING: Liocheles australasiae is a parthenogenic species, and as such, require no males for them to produce young. Thus their offspring are exact clones of their mothers; it is likely that pocket populations found on the leaf axils of coconut trees are just genetic copies of only one individual. Gravid females notably become irritable and isolate themselves from the rest of the colony; it is imperative at this point to keep disturbance to a minimum, but do not cease feeding. A brood of around 20 is the norm, although numbers double this size is not unheard of.

Upon birthing, continue feeding the female as the energy expended in the birthing process has to be replenished. If not properly fed, the mother scorpion may resort to cannibalism. Despite the ease in which they procreate, the difficulty lies in the very minuscule sizes of the scorplings, which present a problem with regards to feeding.

What I do in these situations is catch spiders—those that make cobwebs are perfect choices- and throw them to the scorplings; it is not unusual to see a spider struggling to move away as tiny carnivores hold the legs in place and happily munch away, oblivious to the fact that their prey is still alive as they do so.

Another option is if you have a breeding colony of Turkestan roaches (Blatta lateralis); look closely for oothecae (egg cases) and leave one in the scorpion’s enclosure. You have to do this while the young are still in their first instar.

A curious trait of these scorpions is that the scorplings stay near their mothers even when fully independent by their second instar, and even up to the fifth. However, up until the fifth instar L. australasiae are notably cannibalistic, and it is best to isolate each individual to prevent huge losses; a brood of 20 can eventually end up with only 2 individuals.

Liocheles waigiensis

WHAT:This is a much larger species compared to L. australasiae and much less frequently encountered, despite also enjoying a large geographic distribution.

HABITAT:In the wild, they prefer vertical embankments in clayey substrates with very sparse vegetation where they dig their own slit-like burrows that, on average, go to around 20 centimeters (cm) deep. They live sympatrically (coexisting in the same area) with other predatory arthropods such as mygalomorph and lycosid spiders, Amblypygi, Uropygi, and centipedes.

BEHAVIOR: At night, they can be observed at the entrances of their burrows with claws slightly extended forward, ready to seize wandering prey, which consists mainly of spiders and various species of crickets.

WHEN THREATENED: When disturbed, they immediately withdraw backwards, putting their enlarged claws in front of their chelicerae which then functions as an effective blocking armor against intruders. And because the spread of their pedipalps also approximate the width of their burrows, there is practically no leverage that can be used to dislodge them. When extracted, they too, like L. australasiae, enter a catatonic state.

Despite also being a non-aggressive species, L. waigiensis can sometimes deliver a pinch when harassed and stinging is resorted to often only when they cannot operate their pincers freely, as when restrained. The venom presents itself as a sudden, sharp pain, but decreases in intensity soon thereafter.

IN CAPTIVITY: They can be kept much like the previous species, but in lieu of bark, flat pieces of rocks can be used instead. Additionally, using soil instead of leaf mould would be a better course of action because soil eventually becomes compact and therefore provides a more stable base beneath rocks when the scorpions begin digging their burrows.

A looser substrate material is prone to shifting which can cause the overlying rock to collapse and crush the animal beneath it.

WATER REQUIREMENTS: Compared with L. australasiae, this species appear to cease feeding and eventually die when humidity levels are kept high. I therefore recommend that light and brief misting be carried out only once a week; do not make the mistake of spraying for extended periods in the hope of seeing the scorpions drink.

They drink rarely, and an aggressive spraying can drench their enclosures, elevating humidity to dangerously high levels. A small water receptacle can be kept inside their cages, and although I have never seen these scorpions drink from such, its presence ensure that a certain amount of humidity is present, although not at levels that can prove detrimental.

Because they don’t drink often, make sure that prey items are sufficiently hydrated prior to feeding them to the scorpions. This can be accomplished by allowing the prey to feed on moisture-rich foods, such as fruits. Doing so also increases their nutritive value.

BREEDING:Liocheles waigiensis perform their ritual dances for an average of four minutes, during which time the protagonists move back and forth in a test of strength. At this time a male can be seen making quick taps on the substrate using its rear legs; sexing these scorpions is easy as the males sport a tooth on the moveable lower digit of the chela (claw) which matches to a notch on the fixed upper digit. Females do not have such an appendage.

As with the previous species, females resent being disturbed, so if you are maintaining your animals communally, remove and isolate the female, or at least use barriers around its burrow to prevent the other individuals from wandering into the female’s. Brood size is typically small, often numbering only a dozen or less, although not expectedly, the scorplings are larger in size in comparison with those of L. australasiae. The young of this species does not appear to be particularly cannibalistic, although housing them individually still presents the best option.

 

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s April 2018 issue.