Scorpions of Nigramoep
By Ian Engelbrecht, research associate, University of Pretoria
I was very fortunate to be able to stay at this wonderful guest farm for several months as a getaway from the big city during the lockdown period of 2020/2021. Nigramoep is located on a geological transition zone between the quartzites and other sedimentary rocks of the Nama Group and the more typical Namaqualand granites of the Spektakel Suite. The white quartzites visible behind the main guest centre mark the contact zone between these two formations. This makes for an incredible diversity of habitats on this farm, and while most visitors are not particularly excited about seeing scorpions, it is scorpion heaven!
The very first specimen I located was an incredibly rare species of thicktail scorpion, Parabuthus calvus. This species is widespread in Namaqualand but is only very seldom seen. It is distinctive in being very smooth and polished in appearance, in comparison to other thick tailed scorpions which are rough and granular. It also has incredibly long, slender fingers of the pincers. The reasons for these unique adaptations are as yet unknown. I was fortunate to have seen several specimens by the end of my stay, indicating a healthy population on the farm.
Common species are Cape Thicktail (Parabuthus capensis), Common Lesser-thicktail (Uroplectes carinatus), Namaqua Burrower (Opistophthalmus pallipes), and Rough-fronted Burrower (Opistophthalmus granifrons). Less commonly seen are Peringuey’s Burrower (Opistophthalmus peringueyi), the Namaqua Rock Scorpion (Hadogenes phyllodes), and the Rough Thicktail (Parabuthus granulatus), which is probably a blessing given that it is the most potently venomous scorpion in Southern Africa. A special highlight of the visit was finding a series of unusual looking specimens which appear to be related to Opistophthalmus granicauda, and may represent a new species!
For any visitor to Namaqualand and the Northern Cape, a few simple precautions can minimize the chances of a nasty encounter with a scorpion. Make sure that you wear good closed shoes if walking around outdoors in the evening or at night on warm summer nights, and if camping out in the open check your sleeping bag before you climb in for the night. Shake out your hiking boots in the morning before putting them on as a boot provides a nice dark hiding hole for all sorts of nocturnal creatures.
Nigramoep is an ideal location for seeing scorpions in the wild and taking some time to face those feelings of arachnophobia. Towards the end of my stay I got to take the lovely ladies of the Hartpad Sirkelroete Tour out for a scorpion walk with UV lights. Scorpions glow bright purple under UV light in the dark, making nocturnal scorpion hunting quite an exciting adventure. An accommodating burrowing scorpion allowed me to lure it out of its burrow and use it as a model for a short talk about scorpion anatomy and behaviour. The ladies loved it! UV lights are on sale at the little farm shop.
Opistophthalmus cf. granicauda