Sunday, December 30, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Scorpions

     Working outdoors as I do, it’s not uncommon to see the local animals.  Some of the highlights of my career include viewing moose in northern New Hampshire (which look incredibly ungainly, yet huge and quite intimidating at the same time) and black bears (most of these in, of all places, northwestern New Jersey, by the Delaware Water Gap).  This year, on the southeast Tennessee job I added another—scorpions, specifically the bark scorpion.  I thought this was particularly neat because I didn’t realize that scorpions were found in the eastern U.S.—I figured they were only out west, especially the southwest states.
     The scorpions were pretty cool—tiny (about an inch or two long), yellowish brown, and in two cases, complete with even tinier whitish babies on the mothers’ backs.  Bark scorpions are relatively harmless to humans.  Their stings give victims about fifteen minutes of intense pain, but the only (extremely rare) deaths are from anaphylactic shock due to an allergy.  Certainly I was more concerned about the frequent rattlesnakes and copperheads in the project area, especially when I learned that rattlesnakes even climb trees, from a coworker named Jeremy who almost got face-bit from one of these nimble vipers.  We mostly saw the scorpions just under the leaf litter, and I spent many breaks and lunches clearing around me in the (usually futile) hope of finding more.
     A few weeks before Christmas I was researching exotic/disgusting foods, and discovered, lo and behold, that a company sells scorpions, and will ship them to you.  In fact, it’s a company I was familiar with—Hot Lix (  They sell various unusual animals encased in lollipops, and I wasted little time in ordering up a Scorpion Sucker—Apple Flavor.  The ingredients are, “Malltol syrup, scorpion, artificial flavor and coloring (yellow 5, blue 1).”  (See photo above.)
     I began eating it.  The apple flavor of the lollipop was okay.  However, I realized that dissolving it in the normal way would probably result in the scorpion being broken apart, as separate body parts would slowly be exposed.  Also, I’ve had apple flavored candies before, so that wasn’t the focus of this treat.  Therefore, I decided to melt the candy off, leaving the intact scorpion for me to try.  And before anyone says anything, I realize that gourmet chefs like Julia Child and Rachael Ray strongly recommend using a convection oven to cook lollipops off of scorpions, but I was in a hotel, so I had to make do with a microwave.  That worked pretty well, and I was left with a scorpion that was still mostly intact and relatively candy-free.
     And it was good.  I tried the various body sections separately (tail, claws, body), and they all tasted about the same.  It was crunchy, not surprisingly, but also had a nutty flavor.  I would eagerly try it again, hopefully prepared in another way.  Evidently the Chinese consider it a delicacy, and I believe frying them is a common cooking method.  The Chinese also put scorpions (and sometimes together with snakes) in a type of wine that’s considered to be medicinal.  I wonder if guys make a macho game of eating the scorpion and/or snake after a bottle is killed, a la the worm in a bottle of mezcal.
     Hot Lix included a phone number, so I used it to find out which species I’d consumed (and yes, this might have gotten me on some FBI watch list, but I was curious).  The company was very helpful, and told me I’d had an individual of the type Paruroctonus Mesaensis.  The common names for this are the dune or desert scorpion, and it’s native to Arizona, California, and Nevada.  A scientific journal article also called it the “cannibalistic scorpion,” although evidently this behavior is common for a lot of species.  Therefore, I hope that I dined on a desert/dune scorpion which subsisted on a diet of desert/dune scorpions.  I wonder if these scorpions also think that their kind’s flesh has a nutty flavor.  (Incidentally, and you might want to stop eating before you read this, whether it’s also a scorpion or something else, scorpions eat in a repulsive way.  The can only ingest liquids, meaning that they have to use “external digestion.”  This essentially means that they puke digestive juices on their food, and then suck it down after the juices have dissolved the solids.)
     Also, during the same Tennessee job, another coworker named Jen happened to mention a weird story about scorpions.  She’d heard that if you dropped alcohol on one it would get drunk almost immediately, and then sting itself to death in a suicidal (or extremely clumsy homicidal) rage.  Sure enough, there were some videos of this experiment online, and I watched folks dripping vodka and Bailey’s on captive individuals.  It appears to be a myth.  Both scorpions seemed to suffer no ill effects, certainly not fatal ones (I suppose it’s possible that they became intoxicated, but I don’t know how that would be tested—have them crawl a straight line?  Recite the alphabet?).  One (I think it was the one that got the Bailey’s shower) did freak out a little and sting about violently, but this appeared to be directed at the alcoholic beverage drops, and it didn’t sting itself.
     We also wondered if a scorpion could actually pierce its own exoskeleton with its stinger.  Apparently they can, as their cannibalism suggests that they do this to others of their kind, since it is their preferred hunting method.  Additionally, during mating males occasionally sting females with a small amount of venom before consummating their romance, probably to sedate the ladies so they don’t try to eat their man later.  And some species are among those rare animals that can reproduce by parthenogenesis, meaning no sex is necessary, and unfertilized eggs can mature into young.  Sounds a bit dull to me, but it does avoid the unpleasant acts of either slightly poisoning your girlfriend before sex, or ripping apart and consuming your boyfriend afterwards.

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