Countless species of venomous creepy-crawlies with scorpion-like pincers lurk in the wilds of Ontario, and probably even in your own home. Known as pseudoscorpions for their menacing-looking features, these predatory arachnids are, surprisingly enough, nothing you need to worry about.
Still, arachnophobes, be warned; you’re not going to have a fun time reading any of this.
Pseudoscorpions are found across the globe and have existed for an absolutely mind-melting 420 million years with little to no change to their physiology. That range includes all of Canada’s most populous province, extending all the way north to the frigid reaches of northern Ontario.
As the name implies, they resemble highly-venomous scorpions, the key distinction being their lack of tails. In lieu of that iconic stabby coiled tail, these arachnids instead deliver their potent chemical weapon via one of the front pincers.
Luckily, that venom poses no threat to humans or pets, and having pseudoscorpions around is actually pretty beneficial as a means of pest control. Not that you’re likely to even notice them around.
Typically ranging in size from two to eight mm, they can be pretty difficult to spot, but sightings often perplex and frighten those unfamiliar with the harmless (to us) arachnids.
For a pseudoscorpion’s prey, the picture is a whole lot more grim. When one of these tiny critters grasps its prey with those pincers, venom glands kick into gear and inject the victim, instantly paralyzing it.
The pseudoscorpion then injects its digestive saliva into the prey, liquifying its insides into a convenient soup of dissolved guts for the animal to consume like some kind of morbid biological Slurpee.
Their pincers have poison glands, so when they clamp down, the prey is instantly paralyzed. The scorpion injects saliva into the prey and feeds on the liquefied contents, similar to how a spider eats.
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At least five varieties of pseudoscorpions reside in Ontario.
The most common of the bunch is the House Pseudoscorpion (Chelifer cancroides), based on the 220 reports spanning from central to southern Ontario on iNaturalist — a social network serving the naturalist community.
Also present in Ontario, are members of the Chernetid and Chthoniid families (with over 1,250 combined species from these groups), as well as Microbisium parvulum and Pseudogarypus banksi pseudoscorpions.
They’re fascinatingly weird little creatures too. These ambush predators lack decent eyesight, instead using small hairs on their front pincers to locate prey.
But the most interesting pseudoscorpion fact has got to be how the tiny arachnids have been known to hitch rides on larger flying insects in a practice known as phoresy.
Phoretic relationships involve organisms (like a pseudoscorpion) using larger organisms — or a phoront — to hitchhike distances that would not otherwise be practical for their tiny little bodies to travel.
So if you see a pseudoscorpion creeping out of a book or from along a dusty shelf in your home, I understand your gut reaction and desire to snuff it out of existence, but I’m going to have to place these critters on the official no-squish list.