New York Times Piece about Scorpion Sweepers
On Saturday, April 30th, 2016 Scorpions Sweepers was lucky enough to be featured in the New York Times. Our front page of the National Section story was highlighted on the Front Page of that weekend’s paper. The story discusses a Scorpion Audit the reporter shadowed us on. On that audit in North Scottsdale, we collected 107 Arizona Bark Scorpions.
Warm weather came early in Arizona, and so did the scorpions. Exterminators hunt them under black lights.
National Front Page (A8)
Arizona Scorpions Get Early Start On Summer
Soaring Temperatures Bring Swarms To Homes In The Desert
Scottsdale, Arizona – The scorpions that scurry around this desert region emerged from their winter slumber early this year.
Usually dormant until late March, these creatures came out in February as temperatures soared, making a month that is generally pleasant the second-warmest February on record.
That got Ben Holland’s phone ringing: Callers were finding scorpions on their beds, in their showers, on walls in and outside their homes and all over their yards. Mr. Holland – a vice president for digital marketing by day, a scorpion exterminator by night – assembled his band of hunters, young men in or just out of college and put them to work.
“Our approach is population control,” said Mr. Holland, 32, who started Scorpion Sweepers in 2006, putting to use his experience collecting scorpions for a laboratory while in college and his once-ignored biology degree. “We don’t poison the scorpions. We don’t smash them. We pick them up one by one.”
They use forceps, which looks like the tweezers one might use to pluck eyebrows, only bigger. Success requires speed and dexterity, skills that are learned on the job. On his second season, Toby Riley, 24, whose other career is in graphic design, demonstrated it as best as he could to Zach Wilson, a scorpion hunting rookie three weeks shy of graduation for Arizona State University. (Major: digital marketing.)
“Pinch the scorpion’s tail and turn your wrist, like this,” Mr. Riley said, Moving his lower arm as if hurriedly scooping beans from a pot.
Pest extermination is big business in these parts and specialties vary – from African bee catchers to termite killers and roof-rat snatchers. Mr. Holland and his sweepers go after scorpions only, and the work only after dark.
Last week, Mr. Riley and Mr. Wilson were zigzagging along the manicured grass and river rocks here on a moonlit night – “one acre out front, one acre out back,” the homeowner, a lawyer named John Schill, told them. Water trickled from a three-tiered fountain. Dogs barked inside. A palm tree leaned above the pool, its trunk twisted into a sideways “s.”
Mr. Riley and Mr. Wilson buttoned their shirt collars snug against their necks (to keep bugs from falling in), slipped on thick neoprene
gloves, laced up their snake-proof boots and turned on the big black lights they each carried.
Scorpions glow under black lights. The glow comes from a substance found inside a hard-and-thin coating on the scorpions’ exoskeleton. Scientists and not sure what purpose it serves. Some say it is to confuse prey; others believe it is to protect scorpions from sunlight.
There are 1,800 types of scorpions in every place on the planet except for the arctic, and more than 50 species in the Sonoran Desert, which covers much of the state. At no more than three inches long, bark scorpions are the smallest, most common and most dangerous – “the only one of them considered to be life-threatening,” said Keith Boesen director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, housed at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy in Tucson.
On average, the center and its counterpart in Phoenix log 12,00 reports of scorpion stings each year, though many more go unreported because people treat them at home. Children, older adults and those who are infirm are particularly vulnerable and should seek immediate help if they get stung, Dr. Boesen said. Deaths are rare – there was one in 2013 and another some 10 years earlier, he said.
Still, pain and discomfort from a scorpion’s sting are inevitable and the reactions can range from scary to bizarre. Israel Leinbach, a biologist for the United States Department of Agriculture in Hawaii who spent years in Phoenix researching bark scorpions, described the pain as “the feeling of being stabbed with a hot knife.: It may last anywhere from a few hours to several days and resist all efforts to make it go away quicker: cold compresses, over-the-counter pain medication, antihistamine.
One’s face and tongue might feel numb, but there is no treatment for numbness, Dr. Boesen said. And it could get worse. Becuase venom is a neurotoxin nerves could fire uncontrollably. Muscles ay spasm. Lips might twitch. Sometimes, eyes will roll around, in opposite directions.
“It almost looks like you’re possessed.” Dr. Boesen said.
Unlink rattlesnakes, scorpions have no warning system, and bark scorpions, in very light shade of brown, can be particularly hard to see. Like rattlesnakes, though, scorpions will sting only if they feel threatened – and a threat can amount to as much as a foot sliding inside a shoe, a scorpions favorite hiding spot.
Others are the crevices on stucco walls, a staple of homes built in these parts. Mr. Leinbach calls them “scorpion hotels.”
Scorpions are ultimate survivors, having evolved during their estimated 400 million years on this planet to withstand inhospitable conditions such as those they find in the desert. Until they find a home at somebody’s home, that is.
Mr. Schill’s had plenty of moisture on the ground as sprinklers we his grass and 149 palm trees every night. The moisture attracts bugs – food for the scorpions. The palm trees’ flaky bark provided perfect hideaways. Mr. Riley plucked five scorpions from a single one of those, 107 scorpions after 90 minutes of crouching and leaning forward to snag the critters. Scorpions that are not distributed to research labs are killed “in the most humane way possible,” Mr. Holland said. (Freezing them is an option.)
Many of them scurried way slipping under river rocks and the ceramic tiles on the roof.
“I’m not worried,” Mr. Riley said, holding a plastic box filled with his loot for the night. This was their first visit (cost:$200 to $250 depending on the property size and location). He knew that to bring the infestation under control there would have to be more visits.
“Scorpions are territorial,” he added. “I’ll know exactly where to look for them next time we come back.”
Behind the Scenes
In early April of 2016 New York Times reporter, Fernanda Santos contacted our founder Ben Holland. She was interested in doing a story about Scorpions Sweepers unique and effective approach to scorpion control and prevention. Excited about the opportunity Ben agreed to let Fernanda and a cameraman shadow our sweepers Toby Riley and Zach Wilson on a Scorpion Audit in North Scottsdale, Arizona.
During the audit, Toby and Zach found and removed over 100 scorpions. All but one being Arizona Bark Scorpions. They were found in river rocks, palm trees, pool deck and fountain features throughout the property.
Sweep Story Video
About the Author
Fernanda Santos covers Arizona and New Mexico as the Phoenix bureau chief for The New York Times. She was previously based in New York, where she covered the New York City public school system; Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s City Hall; Queens, New York City’s most ethnically diverse borough; and the rural and suburban communities of New York State.
Ms. Santos holds a bachelor’s degree in social communications from Pontifícia Universidade Católica of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, her home country, and a master’s degree in print journalism from Boston University.
She came to the United States in 1998 and, prior to joining The Times, she worked at The Republican in Springfield, Mass.; The Eagle-Tribune in Lawrence, Mass.; The Daily News of New York; and People Magazine. She co-wrote “Latinos in the United States: A Resource Guide for Journalists,” published in 2001, and traveled to Colombia in 2005 as a fellow for the International Reporting Project. She speaks four languages – English, Portuguese, Spanish and French – and is trying to learn a fifth, Italian.
On Twitter: @FernandaNYT
North Scottsdale Sweep Story Video Transcription
Hello there, my name is Toby Riley and I am a professional Scorpion Sweeper. The other night I swept a house up off of Cactus and the 101, in north Scottsdale. And we removed 107 scorpions. Throughout the property, we found scorpions in the front and back yard. This general geographical location is somewhat close to the Mcdowell Mountains, and this may be contributing to the scorpions in the area.
Factors on the property that may be contributing to the scorpions being found include 149 palm trees, lots of river rock, minimal amounts of dog and bird feces throughout the property. As well as large amounts of American and German Cockroaches and other flying insects and pests on the property. This house also contained large amounts of Oleanders along one side and a multitude of decorative rock in the back yard.
Scorpions on the property were found consistently from right to left and front to back. Scorpions were also seen on the roof of this property and throughout the backyard around the pool and patio area.
In the front yard, the majority of the scorpions were found in the river rock around the center of the yard. These scorpions were located underneath the five plus inch rock areas, usually, we recommend removing this river rock as it provides shade and habitat for scorpions during the day. A lot of the scorpions were also found in the palm tree bark located throughout the property. As I previously stated there was 149 palm trees of different species throughout the whole property. Scorpions really like this as it provides shade and easy escape points throughout the tree. These palm trees were inundated with scorpions from the base to about 15 feet from where we found them. These palm trees were more prevalent in the backyard, that’s where we found the scorpions. These scorpions were located around the perimeter and the center of the yard and as well like I said, we did find on the back patio to the side back porch door. These scorpions were also found in the decorative fountain features around the pool.
We recommend flushing and running these fountain features regularly to eliminate other pests and scorpions from taking refuge in them. We recommend cleaning up bird and dog feces throughout the property, to remove interest from other pest that may attract scorpions.
Some best practices that we recommend for this property and yours include, trimming your vegetation six to eight inches above the ground. We also recommend removing any excess shade creating objects, he had his pool equipment laying around or pool toys laying around that provide shade during they day, there is a chance scorpions may find their way underneath for refuge. Also on the property we did see some Black Widows and Daddy Longlegs Spiders, these were located around the pool pump areas and the back gate areas as well as the corners of the property. There were scorpions in these areas as well.