Father of three Thomas Beatie left Hawaii to get away from weird bugs. But he moved to Arizona, home of the scorpion.
I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, but moved from the islands to the continental U.S. when I turned thirty. My decision to relocate wasn’t on a whim, but fueled by a premeditated plan to escape the jail of my birthplace. Okay, the latter sentence makes me sound a little dramatic—I still have some childhood issues I’m working through—but nevertheless, I was very motivated to find the perfect place to live, a new land I could sink my roots into and call home. So, what was wrong with Hawaii? After all, it’s a lush, pretty place. People call it paradise and for the most part, I agree. The trade winds ensure crystal clear skies and the deep coastal waters are a surreal, movie-set blue. The downside: it’s crowded, it’s very expensive, and it’s got weird bugs. The average temperature is 80-something degrees, but unless you like to sweat, the humidity will get to you. Lucky Charms, crackers, and other crunchy snacks will go soggy in a quick clip if you leave the bags open. Knowing this is important, especially if you have children.
When I left Hawaii, I didn’t have children yet. But, I knew I wanted to settle into some place that was going to be my Shangri-La, somewhere I could nest and grow my young with a balance of pleasant seasons: snow and sun, flowers and falling leaves, and have the least threat from wildlife and creatures. I chose snowy Bend in Central Oregon. I had a nice, big craftsman-style house. My wife and I had three kids there. Long-story short, my wife accidentally found out who her biological father was on her 43rd birthday—it was her godfather. We tried to weather a tumultuous relationship, buying a new home in a new state to be closer to him.
I now live in Phoenix, Arizona with a girlfriend and my small children ages four, three, and two. I’m obviously fast-forwarding in my adventure—the reasons as to why I am no longer with my wife best be left for another story—this is the explanation as to why I moved to Arizona. It wasn’t my choice. Arizona chose me.
Before moving here, I didn’t know much about the Southwest. What I did know, I learned from reading books and watching television. The Saguaro cactus is plentiful and oddly beautiful. Silhouettes of the plant in the neon pink and orange desert sunsets often mimic human form with arms that take 100 years to grow. Colorful hot-air balloons routinely float across the backdrop of warm-hued ridges and rocky formations. But what can’t be realized until you experience it yourself is the magnitude of the arid heat. Christine, an old girlfriend of mine, used to describe anything extremely hot as “Arizona hot.” I was never fully able to put that into perspective until I survived an Arizona summer. At high temperatures of 120 degrees, Christine wasn’t exaggerating. Needless to say, the transition from the tropics to the Cascade mountains to a land of baking dusty plains, was quite an adjustment. Still yet, it was tolerable because Arizona offers some of the most pleasant and mild winters. People come from all over the world to escape the bitter-cold holiday season of their hometowns.
Weather aside, let’s talk about the critters. I live in rattlesnake country now. Forget the days of Hawaii’s centipedes, B-52 dive-bombing roaches, and imported wharf-rats. Arizona is a new territory for me with new fauna. Granted, I haven’t seen or even heard a tail-shake of a snake yet, but I know they’re out there. I’ve seen a few skinks and large, striped lizards. I’ve heard the call of coyotes and seen packs of them running along the brush. One night, we had a group of javelinas on our doorstep. I never knew they existed until that evening and once I saw them had to Google the animal to learn that they’re also called skunk pigs. (My nose could have told me that.) I stupidly, okay lazily, left a bag of trash on the porch and my new friends saw it as an invitation to a feast. I snorted at them and flailed my arms to try to scare them off, but the three adults and two babies just stared at me, unfazed. I didn’t let the moment go to waste—I took pictures of them instead. While none of these creatures are native to Hawaii and I think it’s pretty cool to expand my wildlife encounters, one Arizona resident in particular does not capture my wonder or my fancy—it’s the scorpion.
For me, one of the main roles of being a dad is being a protector, a defender of my family. It’s something I feel deep in my bones, an intrinsic drive to do anything it takes to shield my children and loved ones from harm. I take this responsibility very seriously and I’ve identified the scorpion as my enemy. I’ve done extensive research on my villain and discovered that there are 56 species of scorpion in Arizona, but only the bark scorpion causes medical problems. It’s this bark scorpion that happens to be the most venomous scorpion in the region. It’s sting can be life threatening, affecting muscle control and respiration, especially for the allergic, the elderly, and children and infants. (For the record, I happen to be allergic to bees and other insects. One time, a tiny ant bit the underside of my thigh and my leg swelled up twice the size. With my good fortune, my kids probably inherited this trait and will be allergic to scorpions too.) Seriously, the venom from a bark scorpion can easily kill small pets: hamsters, kittens, and even puppies. It’s the most prolific scorpion—and it is this one that lives among us in our home.
These predatory anthropoids are a fleshy tan color with a crispy outer shell that magically blend into our tile floor. One time, I saw what looked like a dust ball blowing across the kitchen. But, nope, it was a scorpion walking along like a toy robot, tail curled in the air just like the giant ones from the movie Clash of the Titans. When they’re not hiding under rocks, palm tree bark, or carving out a home in your cabinets, you can also find them in suspended animation within lollipops sold in local trinket shops. They are typically one to three inches long and the smaller they are, the more poisonous their sting. The babies, much like my soon-to-be ex-wife, are the worst, apparently because they can’t control how much venom they release.
We’ve lived in two homes since moving to Phoenix. We saw 18 scorpions in the first year in our old home and a dozen in six months in our new rental home. A friend of mine, Jody, was thinking about potentially moving to Arizona and I had to tell him the truth about his possible risk. Itsy bitsy babies are usually found walking on the kitchen floor, cruising on a wall, or on the decorative rug in the family room. My girlfriend, Amber, was vacuuming and ran the nozzle over one without knowing it. It flipped the scorpion mid-air and she had the presence of mind to react by jumping on the ottoman and waiving the hose in front of her. Luckily for her, she sucked it right up and could see it behind the vacuum’s clear plastic chamber. Bark scorpions are the only species that climb vertically, up anything but smooth plastic and glass. We’ve been told to stand crib legs and the kids’ bed legs in glass jars so they can’t climb up into their beds. And yet, these assassins end up on ceilings and can fall anywhere. We’ve found them in couch cup-holders, playing peek-a-boo in sink basins… even cooking in pots and pans on the stove. This is no game. I’m a Hawaii-boy, so I go barefoot in my house. Despite this custom, going barefoot in a house of scorpions is like surfing at a beach with sharks—you’re vulnerable, in their element, and at some point someone’s going to get nailed. It’s awesome to know that 60% of stingings happen on bare hands and feet, 33% of the time in one’s own bedroom. Since we’d seen all of the scorpions in our house downstairs only, I had a false sense of security that we were safe upstairs. That is, until our neighbor’s seven-year old son got out of his upstairs tub and stepped right on one. His mom had to rush him straight to the ER. Fortunately for him, it was the only hospital in our area that carries the newly-released scorpion sting antidote which alleviates symptoms within hours, eliminating the need for a lengthy hospital stay.
It’s reported that summertime is scorpion season, that they’re sluggish in the winter. This conflicts with my personal experience, as I’ve witnessed equal amounts of scorpions dashing in and around my home all year round. They’re sneaky. They disappear into the recesses of your walls and woodwork. They are definitely not seasonal. They are a clear and constant danger.
I’m a card-carrying black belt in taekwondo. I may be fairly skillful at kicking another man in the head during competition, but I don’t think a jump-spinning heel kick will do any good on a scorpion, that is, unless it’s on a high surface and I have perfect aim. Even then, I don’t think these things can die.
I’ve heard stories from other brave warriors, concerned fathers in the neighborhood, who have sliced these creatures in half only to watch the head and front legs of their victims get away. They say, “don’t step on them, the babies will scatter.” I’ve been warned, “shake your shoes and socks, pull back the bed covers. Wear gloves if you’re going to be rummaging in the garage, touching cardboard, or doing yard work.” My immediate next-door neighbor used to scotch tape their bodies to the ground, proclaiming it was the only real way to catch them. Parents—moms and and dads—would conduct nighttime hunts, calling themselves “The Blacklight Brigade”— because scorpions flourescently shine under backlight like glow sticks. Easy targets. They say there’s no foolproof kind of pesticide treatment to kill scorpions. I called a company called the “Scorpion Slayer.” The owner told me that scorpions can fit through crevices as thin as a credit card. Yes, he wanted my business and, yes, I was scared. If I really wanted to permanently prevent them from entering my home, I needed to fill, caulk and seal, every entryway to my home as well as every nook and cranny on my property. Boric acid, a powder that sticks to their leg hairs, contains microscopic razor-sharp particles that scratch their exoskeletons and dehydrates them, but they don’t die right away—they can still get you. They aren’t easily killed by most pesticides. Sprays merely bother them. Describing a scorpion as being hardy is an understatement. Just when you think you’ve killed them, they come back to life like Arnold Schwarzenegger from the Terminator. I think they may be aliens.
Most people have scorpion sightings in their Arizona homes. And most everyone pays for monthly pest control, but it’s only to kill the scorpions food supply: crickets and cockroaches. I tried to drown a scorpion once. I put it in a glass of water just to see what I was up against. It lived for two days until I gave up. These things can live for twelve months without a morsel of food—three to five years, laying hundreds of eggs at a time, thirty babies surviving per brood. I’ve been told to get a cat or a chicken, natural scorpion predators. We borrowed a cat just for this reason and Olive created no noticeable dent in the rebel’s population—and chickens… in the house—that’s way outside my comfort zone. Garlic fends off vampires, while mythology states that cedar oil offends scorpions. It messes with their ability to mate, detect food, and reproduce, so apparently, they get uncomfortable and overwhelmed by this unlikely control agent. This is good news. I used to think killing anything was cruel, but this harm-no-living-thing philosophy vanished when I met my first scorpion. I read that it’s best to humanely destroy them, if only I knew how. People even advocate a catch and release program. I disagree. This is this wild, wild west. It’s us against them. Some scorpion parent decided to move in and give birth to its young in my house. I have to do what I have to do. I will stop at nothing in protecting my children. It’s their babies or mine.
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Image credit: diveofficer/Flickr