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Desert Diary



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What smells like vinegar and has an evil reputation? Why the Chihuahuan Desert's vinegaroon. This arachnid, a group that includes scorpions and spiders, certainly looks horrendous. Formidable pincers, body size up to 3 inches, and dark coloration all elicit caution. People, then, may be forgiven for mistaking this basically harmless creature for a deadly desert denizen.

Give you a pinch? Quite possible, but hardly something to panic about. Despite the mythology, it's not poisonous, but does have one defense that's unusual. Disturbed, it will spray a mist from glands at the base of the tail. And what is this mist? In the common Trans-Pecos Texas species, it's made up of about 85% acetic acid—vinegar, in laymen's terms.

The smell then accounts for one common name; another common name is whip scorpion, because of the long, whip-like (but harmless) tail appendage. This tail appears to be a sensory organ, complementing the two front legs that are specially adapted for detecting vibrations—the major way this nocturnal animal finds its prey. Ugly—sure, but with lots of character. pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

specimen of vinegaroon

Vinegaroon. A live specimen from southeast of Findlay, Hudspeth County, Texas. Photograph by A. H. Harris.

closeup of head

Close-up of anterior portion of a vinegaroon. Preserved specimen. Photograph by A. H. Harris.



Web Resources

Enchanted Learning

Texas Agricultural Extension Service