Green Pages

The Creepy-Crawly Life

bugs-scorpion-2Story & Photos By B. Naqqi Manco

The Turks & Caicos Islands are blissfully free of dangerous land animals. Our largest native land animal is a humble vegetarian, the Turks & Caicos Rock Iguana. No large predators lurk in the bush. Our three small snake species are all non-venomous and shy. Possibly the only creature throughout these tropical islands that will willingly attack a human is the occasional mosquito.

Being tropical islands, the Turks & Caicos do have their share of creepy-crawly life. Without the restrictions provided by short summers and winter freezes, insects, spiders, and other arthropods here can grow considerably larger than their temperate counterparts. Luckily, very few of these animals pose any threat to humans. Three of the most alarming of these “big bugs” are the giant centipede, the Caribbean scorpion, and the wandering spider. Though all three can bring a fright to people, they are rarely encountered by visitors and few people see them. Even a foray into the bush will only rarely reveal these three secretive nocturnal animals. Therefore, few people are aware not only of their typical behaviour, but also that all three share an unusual and fascinating characteristic in the invertebrate world — they are all excellent parents that provide doting care to their young.
Wandering spiders, or banana spiders, (Heteropoda venatoria) get their name from their habit of hitching rides to temperate countries in imported bananas. They are active hunters and are also called “huntsman” spiders. Banana spiders do not spin webs to catch their prey. They rest by day under rocks or in crevices (a favourite haunt is in stacks of empty flowerpots) and emerge at night to hunt, usually cockroaches and other spiders. However, with a potential leg span of two inches, these spiders will also eat small lizards on occasion.

Females are much bigger than males, and they need to be. Most invertebrates rely on the quantity strategy when reproducing — make as many young as possible, leave them alone, and hope a few survive — rather than the quality strategy of producing a few young and providing protection and care. Banana spiders use both tactics to ensure success. The female lays her eggs in a tightly woven silk pouch that she carries in her jaws wherever she goes until the eggs hatch. If she drops the pouch, she will stop to pick it up before going on her way. Her care does not end when the eggs hatch. The hatchling spiders cling tightly to her back, and she will carry them with her, allowing them to share her meals until they are big enough to hunt on their own. The male spiders do not assist with the child-rearing — in fact, the female sometimes eats her mate during or immediately after their mating!

A distant and much larger cousin of the banana spider is the giant centipede Scolopendra gigantea. They are reddish-brown in colour and can reach a stunning length of eight inches. Centipedes get their name from “centi” meaning hundred, and “ped” meaning foot; however they actually have 42–46 legs, depending on the species. They are active hunters of insects, spiders, and even lizards, but also feed on some vegetation and carrion. Typically found in deep, moist leaf litter, their bodies dry out quickly if they are exposed to sun or wind. Giant centipedes have powerful jaws and can inflict a painful bite, and can also pinch with their hindmost legs, so they should not be handled.
Despite their rather bad dispositions, giant centipedes make excellent parents. Like banana spiders, they use a combination of both quantity and quality reproduction. Females lay masses of eggs in deep burrows in moist earth, and then remain coiled tightly around the eggs until they hatch. During incubation, they will aggressively defend their eggs from any potential predators.
Giant centipedes guarding eggs are vulnerable to their most dangerous predator, the Caribbean scorpion Centruroides testaceus. Though this tiny yellow scorpion is much smaller than the giant centipede (reaching a maximum of two inches), it possesses a venomous sting that is lethal to centipedes — and a hearty appetite for them. Though this sting is painful to humans, it typically results only in a small local swelling that vanishes quickly. Luckily, these scorpions spend their daylight hours wedged into thin crevices and come out at night to hunt centipedes, insects, and spiders. Because of this hiding technique, Caribbean scorpions coil their tails to the side rather than over the back, and when on the move they hold their tails straight out behind them.
Like most of the 1,000 species of scorpions in the world, female Caribbean scorpions take their parental care further than banana spiders or giant centipedes. A female keeps her eggs inside her body until after they hatch. When the young are born, at which time they are perfect tiny replicas of the adults, they crawl onto the female’s back and cling on tightly. She will not only defend them from predators, but will actually feed them by passing bits of her prey to them with her dainty pinchers. The young remain with her until they moult and have a hard exoskeleton and an active stinger with which to defend themselves. This exoskeleton is coloured with a special pigment that makes scorpions glow bright yellow-green when exposed to a black light, and so such a light is one tool scorpion researchers will use when looking for them on the ground at night.
Due to their secretive habits, all three of these special island animals are unlikely to be seen by visitors. If you do see them, appreciate them by observing but not handling, and remember that they are not interested in hurting us. They are, like many humans, simply doing their best to give their offspring a healthy start before sending them off into the world. a

To learn more about these and other unique island animals, please visit the National Trust office in downtown Providenciales at Town Centre Mall. Several publications featuring local wildlife are available for sale. You can also e-mail us for more information at tc.nattrust@tciway.tc.



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Photographer/videographer Gary James, owner/director of Provo Pictures (provopictures.com), originally shot this image for Wymara Resorts and Villas. It perfectly captures the natural “social distancing” available on the Turks & Caicos Islands’ beautiful—and uncrowded—beaches.

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