Thelyphonida: Facts, Etymology & Habitat

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

The class Arachnida is home to many interesting creatures, one of which is the whip scorpion or vinegaroon. This lesson takes a closer look at the whip scorpions; where they live, what they look like, and how they got such interesting names.

One Animal, Many Names

The phylum Arthropoda is a very large and diverse group of animals. In fact, it is the largest phylum in the animal kingdom. Critters in this group include crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters, insects such as flies and beetles, and other animals such as horseshoe crabs and centipedes. Arthropoda is also home to the class Arachnida, which is where you'll find spiders, ticks, mites, scorpions, harvestmen, and the order Thelyphonida, better known as whip scorpions or vinegaroons.

Though they look scary, whip scorpions are harmless animals
whip scorpion

Though they look similar to their venomous cousin the scorpion, whip scorpions are harmless. Instead of a stinging tail, they have a long, slender tail that looks like a whip, which is where the name 'whip scorpion' comes from. The name 'vinegaroon' comes from the fact that when they are disturbed they discharge a gas that smells like vinegar. The order may also go by a different title, Uropygi, which comes from the Greek 'tail rump', and refers to a structure on the rear of the abdomen called the pygidium.

Characteristics of Whip Scorpions

Whatever you call them, whip scorpions are interesting creatures. There are over 100 known species of them worldwide and they range in size from 25 - 85 mm in length. Like other arachnids, whip scorpions have eight legs, though they use their front two legs as sensory organs, similar to how an insect uses its antennae.

True to their name, whip scorpions have a long, whip-like tail
whip scorpion

Also, characteristic of arachnids are the whip scorpion's two body segments, the cephalothorax, which is a fused head and thorax, and the abdomen. The abdomen has 12 segments, and the last three form that pygidium structure, which is a small plate. Whip scorpions have two claw-like pedipalps up front that give them that scorpion-like appearance, and which they use for crushing their prey. And while whip scorpions have eight pairs of eyes, they are fairly weak.

Diet, Habitat, and Mating

Whip scorpions like warm, humid places, and are therefore found in tropical and subtropical habitats around the world. They are nocturnal carnivores, meaning they are active at night and eat other animals. Favorite snacks include things like cockroaches and crickets, but you won't see them turning down a tasty worm or slug either. During the day they prefer to avoid light and take cover under leaves, rocks, logs, and other debris, in holes that they dig out with those large pedipalps.

Whip scorpions have two large pedipalps, which they use for crushing prey, as well as digging burrows
whip scorpion pedipalps

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