The scorpion Euscorpius cf. flavicaudis (De Geer, 1778) (Scorpiones, Euscorpiidae) at Stow-on-the-wold Gloucestershire
Paul F. Whitehead
Moor Leys, Little Comberton, Pershore, Worcestershire WR10 3EH
During June 1985 workmen dismantling a drystone wall constructed of randomised slabs and blocks of Jurassic Oolitic Limestone at Stow-on-the-wold, Gloucestershire observed six scorpions. One of the observers, who has been known to me for some time, described [during 2015] the scorpions as being “black, about 35 mm in length with obvious well-developed pincers and a raised curved tail.” The colours of the appendages were not recorded. The scorpions were only revealed during demolition and included some dislodged examples seen climbing vertically up the wall. They were confined only to the more southerly side of the wall which was directly insolated. The site is in Well Lane (VC33 SP193258 226 m a.s.l.) and the wall no longer exists.
The longest-established population of Euscorpius in Britain is at Sheerness Docks in Kent (Benton, 1992) where the species involved is the Yellow-tailed Scorpion Euscorpius flavicaudis (De Geer, 1778) and the population is thought to have originated about AD1860. In recent years E. flavicaudis has turned up elsewhere in southern counties. It is almost certain that the Stow-on-the-wold scorpions refer to this species; Euscorpius italicus Heer, 1800 is larger and has no established British populations.
However unlikely an established population of Cotswold plateau scorpions may appear at first sight I regard this observation as entirely credible. The key points of discussion are for how long the Stow-on-the-wold scorpions existed and whether they still do. The latter will only be confirmed by a programme of study which will not be easy accepting that scorpions tend not to reveal themselves. With regard to the history of the population clear evidence demonstrates the enormous scale of trade that existed between Europe, especially Italy and in particular Tuscany, during medieval time. Stow Market was granted its first royal charter in AD1107; the extent of the trade and the size of the ships used to transport wool to Europe over hundreds of years were enormous (Fryde, 1996). This trade was bilateral and the market was used directly by foreign merchants and traders. Stow Market has now developed into Stow Fair held in the Maugersbury area not far distant from Well Lane.
It is reasonable to regard this trade as the origin of the Stow-on-the-wold scorpion population where it formed part of the ‘Cotswold wall fauna’ which has been in existence in terms of the present settlements for at least 500 years. The scorpion population is most unlikely to have persisted for that length of time. The composition of this wall fauna varies geographically through the north Cotswold hill settlements but includes significant populations of isopods which may have been a favoured resource for the scorpions. The age of the wall in Well Lane is unknown but this is not important if the scorpion population formed or forms part of a larger one which may have used walls of different ages. Although Stow-on-the-Wold is situated in comparative exposure Oolitic Limestone walls and nearby buildings impact significantly on microclimate and the rock acts a significant heat sink (Darlington, 1981). Additionally they form corridors between buildings allowing options for further retreat where necessary. On the Cotswold Hills up to at least 100 m a.s.l. the thermophilous ‘house’ spider Pholcus phalangoides (Fuesslin, 1775) utilises wall-ends abutting houses. If scorpions still exist at Stow-on-the-wold they are likely to be favoured by recent climatic trends.
Benton, T. G., 1992. The ecology of the scorpion Euscorpius flavicaudis in England. Journal of the Zoological Society of London 226:351-368.
Darlington, A., 1991. The ecology of walls. pp. 1-138. Heinemann, London.
Fryde, E.B., 1996. Peasants and landlords in later medieval England c1380-1525. pp.i-xi, 1-371. Alan Sutton, Stroud.