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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

DESERT NWR COMPLEX: A Glowing Response! Dozens of visitors hunt scorpions on the Pahranagat and Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuges

Region 1, December 20, 2013
A scorpion as seen at night under ultraviolet light.
A scorpion as seen at night under ultraviolet light. - Photo Credit: n/a
A visitor from Las Vegas peers at a scorpion under an ultraviolet light.
A visitor from Las Vegas peers at a scorpion under an ultraviolet light. - Photo Credit: n/a
Eyeing Hadrurus arizonensi, which can grow up to 5 ½ inches in length.
Eyeing Hadrurus arizonensi, which can grow up to 5 ½ inches in length. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Tim Parker

Neon green may be a common sight in Las Vegas, but it seems a bit out of place in the quiet desert that surrounds the city. That’s not the case during three weekends in September.

The Pahranagat and Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) hosted four nights of scorpion hunting with ultraviolet lights. Under the purplish haze of these lights, the scorpions glow a distinctive yellowish green, enabling visitors to quickly pick them out of the desert landscape. Chig Foley, a volunteer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explained that “scientists don’t know exactly why scorpions evolved this trait, but the only time they won’t glow is right after a molt, when their exoskeletons are new.”

The refuge staff knew they had a hit when CNN and the Los Angeles Times called requesting information for stories they were writing about the events. As the refuges started taking reservations, it became apparent that more than two evenings would be needed for this popular event. So, two more were scheduled. In all, the programs attracted 141 visitors. Well over half had never been to one of the national wildlife refuges in southern Nevada.

The evening wasn’t just about stinging arachnids though. At the Moapa Valley NWR, a particular treat for guests was to see the endangered Moapa dace. Red spotlights aimed at the refuge’s stream profile window let visitors see into the water despite the darkness. On another portion of the hike, visitors participated in sound and light experiments to gauge the effectiveness of nocturnal animal adaptation such as larger ears and eyes that adjust for night vision.

Having seen glow-in-the-dark scorpions and other fascinating things, participants returned home excited about their discoveries and promising to return to the refuges before next year’s scorpion hunts.

Tim Parker is a Visitor Services Specialist at Pahranagat NWR and Moapa Valley NWR.

Contact Info: Daniel Balduini, 702-515-5480, daniel_balduini@fws.gov