Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/631

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

It is certainly a curious question how so perfectly harmless a creature can have acquired such a bad reputation. I know of no modern parallel. In Shakespeare's time a similar popular prejudice was entertained against one of the most useful servants that farmers and horticulturists possess. The well-known lines—

"The toad, ugly and venomous,
Holds yet a precious jewel in its head"—

were but the echo of this crude and cruel fancy. So with our Thelyphonus. It is not only absolutely harmless, but, as I shall soon show, one of the most useful helps in keeping within bounds one of our most serious pests.

The comment that I once heard, by a not over-intelligent and somewhat profane individual, upon seeing a dead whip scorpion—"Any fool can see that that critter is rank pisin!"—probably partially explains the matter. It must be conceded that the looks of the Thelyphonus are decidedly against it. Its long, frisky tail, its big, threatening claws, and its generally uncanny and vicious appearance are quite sufficient to inspire caution if not positive dread. It "looks pisin," and that settles it with the ignorant. With the better informed the fact that the creature belongs to a bad family, that its nearest relatives are unquestionably venomous, may help to explain, though it can hardly excuse, the widespread currency which even scientific men have helped to give to a most erroneous and slanderous belief.

And now as to the food question. This, of course, was a very vital matter to my little prisoner, and one of great interest to me. After the failure of the cockroach diet, I next tried grasshoppers. These also have been declared to be greatly relished by the Thelyphonus. I did not find it so. The first one placed in the cage was, to be sure, partially eaten. But, unfortunately, a colony of ants had got into the cage, and were dining on my dead Gryllus. This left the matter a little uncertain. On fencing out these intruders, and repeating the experiment with the same and half a dozen other species, I became convinced that my Thelyphonus, at least, was not fond of grasshoppers. Then began a kind of general system, or no system, of haphazard feeding, or rather trials of food. My marketing range for my particular "boarder" was by no means a limited one. During the month of September, when most of these investigations were in progress, Florida is by no means deficient in insect life. Every day from two to ten new and different species were placed in the cage. A list was kept, to avoid repetition, until my captive was offered her choice of something over a hundred varieties of "bugs," worms, grubs, spiders, ants and their eggs, lizards, butterflies, etc.—every-