Now the whole world knows about Las Vegas and its scorpions

Las Vegas and its scorpions

Arizona bark scorpion (via Progressive Pest Control)

Nearly seven years ago in this space, I highlighted the presence in Las Vegas of scorpions. Specifically, I recounted how fortunate it was for the area’s marketing agency, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, that what are now upwards of 40 million tourists a year arrive blissfully unaware of the little buggers hereabouts.

Not any more.

News earlier this week of a California man’s claim that he was stung several times by a scorpion in a very private part of his body while sleeping in his bed at the swank high-rise Venetian Las Vegas on the Strip has exploded across the Internet. My Google search for mentions since Monday in the same article of “Las Vegas” and “scorpion” already has topped 100,000.

Media outlets reported the news were far and wide. There were the usual suspects in the U.S.–meaning just about everywhere. Abroad, I saw a staff-written story in the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English-language newspaper, describing in a dead-pan manner the “unexpected and distressing encounter” of  Michael Farchi, visiting from the Los Angeles suburb of Agoura Hills on the day after Christmas. A long article appeared in London’s, which gets 191 million visitor views a month.

Although he went to a hospital, Farchi survived. He even managed to snare the perp, a photo of which has been plastered everywhere. Farchi has lawyered up–his mouthpiece is Brian J. Virag, a Los Angeles lawyer who specializes in hotel insect cases and has trademarked the phrase “My Bed Bug Lawyer.” (Who knew bed bugs had lawyers?) But there doesn’t seem to be a lawsuit filed–yet. (An account by KLAS-TV in Las Vegas says the hotel eventually comped the room.) According to news accounts, the hotel hasn’t had much to say.

Still, to my mind, this is just another example of how stuff that isn’t all that unusual but which happens in Las Vegas gets insane attention elsewhere only because it happens in a place with Sin City as its unofficial nickname. I have written before about this phenomenon of the wrath of editors mirroring (or second-guessing) the wrath of God. According to studies I consulted, more than 1 million persons a year get stung by scorpions worldwide, while only 3,000 deaths are reported. You’re far more likely to die from the flu. All this hubbub about one non-fatal scorpion sting in Vegas, even if in a sensitive spot of the anatomy?

Much of the rest of this post is drawn from my earlier meditation on the topic of Las Vegas scorpions.

Here’s what prompted me to write about the topic in the first place. Like what happened to Fanchi, at the New to Las Vegas world headquarters a scorpion crawling across the ceiling actually fell into my own bed! Fortunately, unlike Farchi, I’m a light sleeper and was able to make short work of the crittter with a pillow case organized-crime-style (hey, this is Vegas, baby, where the Mob Museum is a popular tourist attraction). I was careful to avoid the tail, tipped with a stinger that can swoop over and deliver a hefty load of potent venom.

An autopsy (by me) revealed it was an Arizona bark scorpion, which Farchi years later photographed as his assailant. The brownish creatures are so called because they live on the bark of palm trees, which are plentiful in Las Vegas, and were first identified in our neighboring state. Arizona bark scorpions are rather small, usually three inches or less in length, including the tail. But they more than make up for their diminutive stature with a toxin routinely called among the strongest in the scorpion world.

It is said that there are two dozen kinds of scorpions around Las Vegas, but only the Arizona bark scorpion can deliver a sting described as potentially fatal. I say potentially because I can’t find a record of anyone succumbing to an Arizona bark scorpion sting in Las Vegas, Nevada or even the rest of the country. And that includes Arizona.

I now have been stung twice by Arizona bark scorpions (on my hands, unlike the unlucky Farchi), and I can affirm it hurt like hell for a couple of hours before the pain went away. Worse than when I got stung by bees as a youth in my native New Jersey, but not by much. Few scorpion victims, it appears, go to emergency rooms for treatment unless they are infants or very old folks.

On average I have had about three encounters a year with scorpions in Las Vegas. The very first was in the bottom of a cardboard moving box I was unpacking two days after becoming New To Las Vegas. The big moving truck came from Seattle–not a known breeding ground of Arizona bark scorpions–but parked for a day in Las Vegas because it beat me here. I’m guessing the scorpion jumped on and made its way into my box of old computer cables. Nothing to eat or drink in there, but cozy.

I used my boot to deliver the coup de grâce.

In other incidents, I saw the scorpion first, often crawling across a floor. As it turns out, they are rather stupid bugs. They are surprisingly slow and not skilled in evasive zig-zag tactics, like the black widow spiders I had to deal with years ago while living around Los Angeles or the four-inch-long cockroaches that sometimes got inside our house in Houston (yes, some things really are bigger in Texas). It is a poor reflection upon my character, but when I stomp on a scorpion, I love the sound of the crunching body.

I live on the southeast side of the Las Vegas Valley just off U.S. 93, which is now the main direct truck route between Arizona and the Las Vegas area. I’m guessing scorpions hitched rides and then fell off once they got past the Hoover Dam on the state line just 30 miles away. So it’s maybe not surprising they’re around me. But Arizona bark scorpions also can be found most everywhere across the Las Vegas Valley, where they started to be noticed maybe two decades ago. U.S. 93 and U.S. 95, another old truck route starting in Arizona, cut across Las Vegas on the same roadway before separating, providing lots of local dropping-off points.

Actually, Arizona bark scorpions are not very aggressive unless they’re trying to find bugs, which is a good thing since they eat many times their weight in beetles, roaches and, sometimes, other scorpions. Their eyesight is said to be dreadful. Arizona bark scorpions only attack humans when threatened–by, say, a foot trying to get into a shoe where they had holed up for the night. Hell, they wouldn’t even need Oscar Goodman, the mob lawyer turned ex-Las Vegas mayor, to get them off on a stand-your-ground plea.

Unlike most scorpions, which are solitary hunters, Arizona bark scorpions are sociable (at least when they’re not eating one another) and like to be together. They breed like crazy and can live six years. So like many Las Vegas homeowners, I have a ultra-violet flashlight that illuminates them at night. Fortunately, I haven’t seen groups of them yet, which is why I haven’t felt the need yet to get a professional exterminator. (I should also point out that decades ago I spent a fair amount of time around war-torn Beirut, so it takes a lot to freak me out.)

Arizona bark scorpions are covered with a waxy substance that both retains their precious bodily fluids against the dry desert heat and helps make it possible for them to slip through cracks narrower than a credit card’s thickness. There are a number of home remedies for dealing with scorpions other than putting down poison, which can be a problem with pets. An interesting one I heard about involves wetting a burlap bag and putting it in the middle of a room or a porch before going to bed. It attracts scorpions looking for moisture. In the morning, the homeowner simply steps on the bag. Nobody said scorpions are bright (even though they’ve been around for a couple hundred million years).

Another way to rid a property of Arizona bark scorpions is to get chickens. Yes! They apparently view scorpions as akin to munchable potato chips. Within a few blocks of my house I have seen chickens and roosters running loose on the streets. That’s made me wonder if they’re in the ‘hood for the purpose of centruroides sculpturatus-control (the scientific name for an Arizona bark scorpion, in case you make it to a TV game show or the national spelling bee).

Unlike tourists, the locals know about scorpions. Every so often, a Las Vegas TV station airs a scorpions-running-amok-in-Las-Vegas story, perhaps at the behest of pest-control publicists. For one particularly alarmist YouTube example from nearly a decade ago on KTNV, the ABC affiliate, click here.

It was the Las Vegas visitors authority that in 2003 came up with the cheeky marketing slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” It was never true, of course, judging from all the bad press oozing from here around the globe (as well as my counter-argument list, “It Didn’t Stay Here, published nearby, of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas).

In 2020, the authority revised its pitch to “What Happens Here, Only Happens Here.” Any more accurate? Michael Farchi, his lawyer and now the entire planet might have a view on that.

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