12 days of a (wildlife) Christmas - seven scorpions a swimming

Barry Clough 

Traditionally on the seventh day of Christmas, we would be receiving seven swans a swimming from our one true love, but we’re going to talk about seven scorpions a swimming instead!

As Wild Learning Officer in Ipswich I have the pleasure of hosting several different night safaris and session across the town’s parks and green spaces with several of them taking place in the beautiful and historic Holywells Park.

The wild side of Ipswich never disappoints and we have heard hooting Tawny owls, seen toad migrations, frog forays, stag beetles bumbling along in flight, hedgehogs snuffling along as they shuffle past and also a whole host of species in the ponds and streams that often go unnoticed during the day. One such species is the Water scorpion! Yes we have a type of scorpion here in Suffolk... well sort of!

The Water scorpion is one of my favourites to be found in ponds and I couldn’t believe that of all the hundreds of times I have been pond dipping with groups in Holywells Park, I had never found them, usually finding them in Chantry Park instead. As we approached the waters edge we could see all the different species that had come to the surface of the pond allowing us to inspect them by torchlight. There clinging onto plant material, which is characteristic for this poor swimming species was a Water scorpion! Choosing to sit and wait for passing prey and dinner to come to them, this species will bide its time and pounce when the time is right. Using their extremely strong mouth parts, Water scorpions will then suck their prey’s blood.

Water scorpions are also impressive in other ways such as the way in which they breathe. Using a snorkel like appendage on its bottom, they will poke this out of the water to collect air, then depositing it in a bubble onto its abdomen. They will then use this air bubble like a diver would an air tank and breathe through it periodically throughout the day. An air bubble provides enough oxygen for a couple of days before the need arises to collect more air. In the winter therefore, Water scorpions could come unstuck if their watery world becomes frozen but luckily they have adapted to overcome such a situation. They are able to drop their metabolism drastically and they will receive enough oxygen that is present in the water to top up their bubble which will then keep them going through this period of reduced activity.

It is easy to forget about all of the life that is still present in our waterways over winter, but there is still a whole host of life down there just waiting for the warmer months before they can swim around with more vigour again.