The Topic At Hand: How Do You Like Your Eggs?

I don’t follow astrology, but I had my chart done a long time ago, and the astrologer pointed out a conjunction of the moon and mercury, in Scorpio. My moon sign apparently rules my intimate relations. Mercury is all about my communications, especially my writing. My work, the astrologer said, not to mention my love life, would tend to be Scorpionic. Oh really? Me, secretive? Prone to power struggles? Preoccupied with sex?

Well, scorpions, like most of us, do enjoy sex. This is particularly risky when both sexes have a poisonous stinger. Said stinger (telson) is found in the last segment of the male and female metasoma, snug up next to a tight scorpion anus. The telson has a nasty pair of venom glands, and a hypodermic venom-injecting barb (aculeus).

Scorpions, like some of us, enjoy a complex courtship and mating ritual. (Do you come here often?) The male will grasp the female’s claw (pedipalps) and commence a promenade à deux, which is a nice way of saying he will drag her through the dust until he finds the perfect place to ejaculate his sperm parcel (spermatophore).

Beatty_scorpion

A female scorpion, like most females, appreciates a good kiss. The male has been known to grasp the female’s claw-like mouth (chelicerae) with his own, and thus lead her down the path, her pedipalps flailing.

The male scorpion, like many of us, likes to dull the senses of his date before consummation. (Aren’t you going to buy me a drink first?) A small amount of poison might be left up front, possibly near the pair of eyes on the top of her head, or perhaps near one of the other sets of eyes down around a lower body segment, or, oddly enough, in one of her huge claws. Remember, the poison comes from his telson, which is next to his anus, so watching that come close to any one of her many eyes would be a buzz kill.

And male scorpions, like many guys, like to ejaculate on things. Inanimate things. Like sand and rocks. Immediately thereafter, while it’s still hot and teeming with life, he will wrestle his date over his sperm parcel so it can enter her vagina (opercula), thus triggering the release of the actual sperm and fertilizing her eggs. Once the romance is consummated, he releases her and retreats, very quickly, in reverse, as to avoid being cannibalized. (You call that a date?!)

The expectant scorpion, like most humans, keeps her fertilized eggs inside her body until birth. The scorplings are born live and fall into a segment of mother’s many legs, which she has folded up for the blessed event. They’re cradled there until they can manage to shimmy up onto her back where they molt once or twice before forming the thick skin one needs for Scorpionic courtship.

Like many fathers, when his babies are born the male scorpion is nowhere to be found.

And when there are no males around, Hottentotta hottentotta, and the Hottentotta caboverdensis (these are regional designations for old world scorpions, the name has nothing to do with the Hottentot Venus), can reproduce through parthenogenesis, which is a non-religious way of saying virgin birth. Hallelujah! No more bad dates! She has a choice!

For the Hottentotta and her like, it’s all about eggs. Sperm be damned, check your parcels at the door, her eggs can miraculously yield scorplings sans fertilization.

No one knows if there’s a sexual urge fueling this parthenogenesis. Perhaps it’s sublimated through her predator’s diet, which may just include dispirited, thin-skinned males. I mean really, what do they have to look forward to? A venomous reach-around from another male?

Seahorses (hippocampus), however, mate for life. This is perhaps because it’s the male seahorse who gets pregnant. The poor little guy has a brood pouch. The female inserts her ovipositor and squirts hundreds, even thousands of eggs, which he fertilizes internally. But I’m getting ahead of myself, it all begins with a lovely, and far less Scorpionic, courtship.

This courtship drags on for days. They change color and swim two by two, side by side, grasping tails and wheeling around in unison like synchronized swimmers in an old MGM musical. Both seahorses finally sink back to the bottom of the sea. She swims away. (Dissolve, fade the music.)

The eggs are fertilized in daddy’s pouch, which is generously lined with prolactin, the same hormone that triggers milk production in pregnant women.

Mr. Knocked-up’s presumably monogamous woman visits him daily for morning greetings. (Where have you been?) She will flit about overhead in languid choreography for five minutes or so. It’s all very reminiscent of their courtship. He changes, color, she changes color, they wheel around sea grass fronds, and promenade proudly, holding one another’s tail. She swims away until the next morning. (You don’t want breakfast?) The male goes back to vacuuming up food for his brood through his snout.

The astrologer told me that Cancer is the most domestic sign of the zodiac. I’m guessing that most male seahorses are Cancer, but like I said, I don’t follow astrology.

scorpion image by Jerry Lee

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    • Siobhan

      Brian,
      Loved it! Really, really interesting!

    • Eric Eicher

      I, too, enjoyed this Brian. It was very nimbly written, not to mention funny. Interestingly, what you close the fifth paragraph by saying would be a buzz kill for a female scorpion, though I can agree it would be for some humans, would seem to be quite the opposite for her, since the interaction you describe would appear to be a routine aspect of scorpion sex, meaning this weird and venomous dance must be pop-pop-popular in Scorpion Land.

    • clive hirschhorn

      Great piece, Brian. I didn’t know any of this.You’ve contributed to my on-going education.

    • Tim Hayes

      Very interesting and well written piece, Brian. And here I thought only male mailmen ejaculate parcels of sperm….

    • Nancy Belson

      Reading this – I kept asking myself – am I the Scorpian or the Sea Horse?

    • Michele Peters

      wow…I had know idea that you were such a biologist!! Nice writing.

    • Tara

      I barely know anything about astrology for humans, but what is its traditional application to animals? They must share the same set of symbols, right? I see that some enterprising group in the UK is offering horoscope readings for cats and dogs, but is that pure capitalism or does it have any historical basis? Wouldn’t it mess it up when certain animals have a mating/birthing season? If the planets matter for us, shouldn’t they matter for them though? So maybe seahorses could all share a sign.

      What I didn’t understand:
      If the male is strong enough to drag her around (or kiss her around) why does he have to be so scared of her cannibalizing him?

      Are the Hottenttota scorpions the same ones as the more conventionally reproducing ones in the beginning, or a different variety? What does old world mean, in the context of scorpions? I’m guess, not Europe?

    • Brian

      The male would do well to watch his back from the start of her post-coital disappointment. Her senses were dulled in the promenade à deux, yes?

      As far as I know, the Hottenttota are the same variety, and the sometime parthenogenetic phenomenon is a mystery. There are scorpion breeders who keep them as pets and boast online (with unsettling photos) of their rare litters of scorplings who were not fathered.

      I use old world in the sense that they are native to the Eastern Hemisphere, especially Eurasia and Africa.

      I have hereby exhausted my knowledge of the subject and sincerely hope there are no further questions, Tara.

    The Author

    Brian F. Beatty

    brian.beatty
    Brian F. Beatty is a dramatist, blogger and résumé writer trafficking in the gray areas in between. He has an illicit love for the rambling biographies that inspired Aftermath, The Mother of Invention, and Rumors of War, his trilogy of plays set between the two World Wars. Brian is the founder and principal of Key Resume Writers. He is also a loyal resident of Park Slope, Brooklyn.

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