Tuesday, March 3, 2009


“Three bucks on the scorpion,” a bearded hombre waved his cash in the crowd as the greasy flow of the Rio Grande slapped at the pebbled banks of the island on which they stood.

“Got a buck here,” The dealer grabbed the bill from the bettor’s hand and moved to the next.

An iron tub had been dragged into this no man’s land somewhere between Texas and Mexico. As the sun dipped below the mountains the hawker announced the fight was about to begin: Two arachnoids faced each other at the bottom of the white tub, a tarantula and a vinegarone.

The vinegarone often referred to as a whip scorpion, is no scorpion at all, but an arachnoid, part of the spider family. With four pairs of legs, the vinegarone is nocturnal, and scoots across the desert surface at night in search of fresh meat, like crickets or millipedes. Like the scorpion, they have a pair of eyes in front and three on each side of the head, but have poor vision. To pick their way through the desert, they rely on their first set of legs. Modified over the eons, these legs act as antennae-like sensory organs, that feel the ground as they walk with the other six.

Many vinegarones grow as long as six inches, including the thin whip like tail, which is shaped much like the scorpion’s but without the poisonous barb. Vinegarones subdue their prey with a set of powerful pinchers.

The vinegarone when cornered is capable of spraying a mist of acetic and octanoic acid, a foul combination that smells like vinegar or vinagron in Tex-Mex and hence the name vinegarone.

In the scientific community vinegarones are known as Uropygids, meaning tail rump in Greek. Many varieities flourish throughout the world. The black sometimes orange Texas vinegarone is found primarily in the Chihuahuan Desert but has been found as far north as the Texas Panhandle.

Vinegarone was also the name of a railroad camp near the confluence of the Pecos and Rio Grande. At its peak in 1883, 3500 people lived there. Judge Roy Bean, who was also known as a vinegarone, operated a saloon there and occasionally hosted paramutual events on the un-lawed islands of the Rio Grande.

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