For over a decade, England has been constructing animal crossings in an effort to prevent run-ins between trains and wildlife. Yet despite this, all it took was a tiny arachnid to stop a train dead in its tracks.
The pregnant female black bark scorpion, measuring in at only 2.5 centimetres (an inch), was simply after a dark, dry place to have its young – which is why it climbed into the bag of a British tourist who was visiting Guatemala on holiday. It remained incognito through the return trip to the United Kingdom and only made its presence known when the woman, having boarded a train bound to Edinburgh from London, reached into her bag to grab her glasses. Clinging to the glasses case was the scorpion.
The case was quickly dropped in fright, along with the accompanying arachnid hitchhiker. The scorpion, having been made, bolted out of sight. And so began a trial-and-error approach on the part of several passengers to devise the best means to catch an escaped scorpion.
According to Exotic Pet Refuge director Darren Mansfield, whose organisation would eventually take in the escapee, some of the early attempts at capture were less than ideal.
"A passenger tried to catch it in an ice cream tub, but scorpions don't like sticky, wet places so it wasn't interested," Mansfield told the BBC. "Luckily, the woman's son was eating a chicken dinner so she made him wolf that down and it was lured into that container." Mansfield noted that although the scorpion's sting is three times worse than the average wasp sting, it's not dangerous to most people.
Once train authorities were notified, the train was stopped and passengers were moved to a different car. Next came a thorough search for any additional arachnid stowaways.
Finally, the chicken dinner trap-encased scorpion made its way to a new residence at the refuge. According to Mansfield, its transcontinental journey is not unusual. "This type of scorpion is pantropical, so they will go anywhere we give them the means to hitch a lift and set up colonies," Mansfield explained to local media outlet Lincolnshire Live. "They seem to realise that wherever humans go, they will have something to live on because we leave a lot of litter."
And colonisation was indeed on the agenda for the pregnant scorpion. Shortly after the arachnid was made at home in a special heated vivarium, staff noticed three baby scorpions in the enclosure with their mother. Whether the young will survive remains to be seen, especially since unsettled bark scorpions have a tendency of eating their young, and unexpected trans-Atlantic journeys would be unsettling for anyone, much less a misplaced Guatemalan scorpion. However, if they do survive, the refuge will be ready for them.
"Now we've got more mouths to feed," Mansfield said.
Top image: Jorge Daniel Cornu, Flickr