2019 Retrospective: Sheerness Scorpions

I was first alerted to the scorpions in Kent when I stumbled across a Twitter post. Having not seen a scorpion in the wild since living in South Africa and partially being in disbelief that they could survive in the UK, I knew I had to see them for myself.

A bit of research showed that the yellow-tailed scorpions in Sheerness Dockyard arrived in the 18th century in shipments of Italian masonry. They are now an established and recognised colony. The temperate conditions along the North of Sheppey have allowed them to thrive with recent estimates suggesting the Sheerness population holds around 10,000 scorpions.

These arachnids have made a home for themselves in the large, south-facing brick wall which borders the dockyard. Active in the early evening and after dark, they sit in the crevices away from human disturbance and waiting to prey on wood lice. Thanks to their extremely slow metabolism, they can survive on only four catches a year!

Despite being most active at night and adults only growing to around 40mm in length, they are fairly easy to locate as they (along with all other scorpion species) flouresce under ultraviolet light.

An inexpensive UV torch from Amazon for less than a tenner proved a perfectly adequate tool and within minutes we were picking out scorpions with relative ease.

In a little over 15 minutes we’d counted at least 30 scorpions varying in size from a few millimeters to full grown adults. It was truly fascinating to see up close and a very worthwhile visit. My curiosity was only piqued further after a conversation with someone who worked for the Back from the Brink conservation project (another worthwhile visit; https://naturebftb.co.uk/) who regularly stopped to check in on the colony whenever he was in the area. He mentioned a similar situation with two self sustaining UK populations of Aesculapian Rat Snakes, one in Colwyn Bay and the other in central London of all places. These snakes can grow to in excess of two metres, easily making them the largest of our snakes and one of the largest in Europe. Definitely one for the list in the coming year!

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