Deceptive Looks

This is a field note from tropical coastal Mexico. A couple of nights ago I spotted one of the insects you see on the right. In Mexico we call them “cancles” or “limpa casas” (house cleaners). In English they have a name as scary as they look, tailless whip scorpions.

Cancles’ looks are deceiving. They’re related to scorpions but aren’t poisonous. There’s no tail like you’d see on a true scorpion ( hence “tailless”). And their front legs have evolved into long thin sensors (the “whip” part of their name) to help them feel their way along.

They’re harmless to us but not to other bugs, resulting in their “house cleaner” nickname. Because they’re nocturnal and skittish you don’t see them very often, but when you do it’s memorable. They look strange. Bigger ones might have a body the size of a small thumb and their legs would span your open palm.

This family of bugs has members all over the world in similar climates and they all look intimidating. Some cultures feared cancles and falsely attributed all sorts of dangers to them even though cancles are actually beneficial predators of other bugs. You can’t always judge something by how it looks.