written & photographed by Heather Valey
It was Friday the 13th and a full harvest moon, enough coinciding symbolism to keep any superstitious folk home with the door locked. However, there was an enthusiastic crew at the moonlight hike I co-led with super Volunteer Coordinator, Johanna Arendt (Travis County BCP). The hike was on a tract of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve that is managed by Travis County.
The tract we were hiking is a small part of a large network of tracts in the surrounding Austin area that make up the preserve. This land was put aside to preserve habitat for endangered and threatened species. One of these species being the Golden-Cheeked Warbler.
Everyone came equipped with flashlights and the desire to see creepy crawlies and things that go bump in the night at the preserve. Luckily, for us nature did not disappoint. We wandered through a meadow at the beginning of the trail and made our way up into an Ashe Juniper and oak forest. Once in the forest Johanna, armed with a black light, flipped over a couple limestone rocks. After a few rocks, we found what we were looking for, a Striped Bark Scorpion. (That’s Centruroides vittatus for anyone who wants to know the Latin. ) Now being proper Texans, we’ve all seen a scorpion or two, heck some of us have gotten much closer than we’ve wanted to and gotten stung once or twice. I fall into that category… ouch. (I still think they are amazing though.) However, one novel thing about scorpions is, that in black light, they glow!
Why do scorpions glow under black light? Scientists don’t know exactly what causes the effect. They have narrowed it down to a substance found in the protective hyaline layer of the scorpion’s exoskeleton. Scientists have noticed that scorpions don’t glow right after they molt. Suggesting that the substance that causes the glowing develops as the new exoskeleton hardens.
After admiring the glowing Arthropods, we went on up to a ridge to look at the full moon and then down back to the trail head where an Eastern Screech Owl topped off the evening with an eerie whinny, much to the appreciation of the group. After the hike we said our goodbye’s to our great group of hikers as everyone headed off to their cars. We hope to see them on a future hike.
You too, can join us on future guided hikes at the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve in Austin, Texas. Check their MeetUp page for upcoming hikes. If you would like to volunteer to help with land stewardship activities on the BCP check out the opportunities they have on their Event Calendar.
Brown, Wizzie, “Hot Dry Summer Has Scorpions in South Central Texas Heading Indoors”, 30 June 2018https://today.agrilife.org/2018/06/30/hot-dry-summer-has-scorpions-in-south-central-texas-heading-indoors/, Agrilife Today
Kids Discover, “What Makes Scorpions Glow in Ultraviolet Light?” 2019, https://www.kidsdiscover.com/quick-reads/makes-scorpions-glow-ultraviolet-light/, KidsDiscover.com,
Terminix, “Why Do Scorpions Glow Under Ultraviolet Light?”, 2019, https://www.terminix.com/blog/bug-facts/why-do-scorpions-glow-under-ultraviolet-light/, Terminix.com