Want to know a secret? There might be a new scorpion species lurking in the high elevations of the Cerbat Mountains of Arizona! While I would really like to discover this species myself, as it nears the end of the field season, I realize that I am just not going to have time this year to take another look. Maybe you are up for the challenge?
Over the past 5 years or so, colleagues and I have continued to discover and document new species of tiny brown scorpions that we like to call LBJs, short for “Little Brown Jobs” (see Fig. 1 for an example). Although tiny, LBJs are fascinating. They represent a group of scorpions called the Vaejovis vorhiesi group, almost all of which are restricted to high-elevation habitats, usually pine forests, throughout the Mogollon Rim and Sky Island regions of Arizona, New Mexico, and adjacent states in Mexico.
Recently, a very unique LBJ was discovered from the Hualapai Mountains in western Arizona (Sissom et al., 2012). Given the degree of isolation of mountain habitats in the Hualapai range, it was not surprising that they contained an endemic scorpion. But do other mountain ranges in western Arizona contain undiscovered species as well?
To test this hypothesis, I used computer models to see if other western Arizona mountain ranges contained climatic conditions predicted to be suitable for LBJs. One of these models is depicted in Figures 2 & 3. Blue represents areas with climates considered unsuitable, whereas red portrays areas where climate is predicted to be suitable. White represents climates that are somewhere in between. As you can see, the model predicts that the high elevations of the Cerbat Mountains contains suitable climate… but is the habitat suitable as well?
Earlier this year I made several trips to the Cerbat Mountains to assess the habitat and attempt to discover a new LBJ. There is a nice road up into the mountains from highway 95 on the western side, so I thought it was going to be easy. Unfortunately, this road just does not access ideal habitats. It takes you up to some primitive campsites with excellent views, but the dominant vegetation is Pinyon Pine and Juniper. LBJs tend to prefer Pondersa Pine Forests.
After looking through USGS data layers, I found that there are stands of Pondersa Pines in the Cerbats, the biggest of which appears to be in the highest elevations flanking Mount Tipton. Of course, there is no road to this forest, you have to hike. So I did.
The hike was brutal and required lots of bushwhacking. There is no water along the way, so you have to carry your own. After a long afternoon, I finally made it to the Pondersa Forest (Fig. 4), which looked ideal for LBJs (Fig. 5). During my visit, however, it was hot, so I ended up ditching most of my gear down below, including my blacklight. Obviously, I underestimated the hike. All I could do was rock flip in the Ponderosa Forest for a half hour before climbing back down, scorpionless, through the brush in the dark to my campsite at the trailhead (Fig. 6). I think, however, that if someone spent some time up there with a blacklight, they might have better luck.
Are you up for the challenge?! Let me know if you want to give it a try and I will provide you with coordinates for the trailhead, the hiking route, and the Ponderosa Forest.
Sissom, W.D., G.B. Hughes, R.W. Bryson & L. Prendini. 2012. The vorhiesi group of Vaejovis C.L. Koch, 1836 (Scorpiones: Vaejovidae) in Arizona, with description of a new species from the Hualapai Mountains. American Museum Novitiates, 3742: 1–19.