Scorpion found in Bayou Gauche

Bug expert says arachnid likely hitchhiked into parish

April 19, 2012 at 2:56 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

When residents in Bayou Gauche find a strange or unusual insect, they bring it to the home of Gordon Matherne, the town’s resident bug hunter. While Matherne has seen several unique specimens over the years, he experienced a first last week when someone brought him a scorpion.

"This is the first time in all my life that I heard of someone finding a scorpion in the parish," Matherne said. "I’ve had friends bring me some back from Shreveport, Texas and Oklahoma where they are prevalent, but I had never seen one here before until last week."

The homeowner who found the scorpion did not wish to be identified in the paper, but Matherne said the arachnid was not native to St. Charles. Instead, Matherne believes that the scorpion snuck into the area in a bag of pine needles. After the needles were dumped out around trees, the scorpion climbed on top of a wooden board to escape the rising water after a recent rain.

"That’s when he saw it, caught it and brought it to me," Matherne said.

Matherne believes that the arachnid is a striped bark scorpion, which is the most common scorpion in the United States. Only a few scorpion species are dangerous to humans, but Matherne said he’s heard the sting of a scorpion is 10 times as painful as a bee sting.

Still, his daughter will keep and raise the arachnid.

"She used to live in Texas and found one in her home there. She raised it and bought everything it needs, so she’s all set," Matherne said.

Matherne’s fascination with insects began 58 years ago when he caught a rare pink katydid when he was a toddler. From that point on, he began collecting anything he could get his hands on, such as sea shells, Indian pottery shards and old bottles.

But for the 63-year-old Gordon, insects have remained his true passion.

"In high school and college they would make us collect bug specimens," Matherne said. "Everyone always thought it was a big chore to collect 100 insects, but I would be done with my project in a couple of days.

"Over time, I’ve just gotten more interested in them."

The wall in Matherne’s once roomy study is now littered with framed boxes displaying the impressive insects he has captured throughout his life. Below each insect is a small label showing where and when the catch was made. It’s the only place in the parish where a black witch moth taken from Philadelphia in 1976 shares space with a local Hercules beetle from 2009.

"Ninety percent of the bugs I have collected come from right here in St. Charles Parish, but there are other insects in my collection from my travels around the country and Costa Rica," Matherne said. "No matter where I am, I’m always keeping an eye out for something interesting."

That sharp eye is what eventually led to Matherne’s association with the Audobon Insectarium, and as an illustration of the cyclical nature of life, the insect that once again caught his eye was a pink katydid.

"I found another pink katydid in 2008 and got in touch with the Audubon Nature Institute to tell them what I had found," Matherne said. "From that point on, I began sending them insects."

Matherne has transported thousands of bugs to the museum since that time. Just last week, he spent a few hours catching 100 beetles for the Insectarium.

He has also become the resident bug expert in the area. He said that several times a year a neighbor or friend will bring over a bug they caught and ask him to identify it. Sometimes jars of bugs are left on his door step and sometimes the bugs are brought to Matherne at church.

While Matherne is happy to help, he still relishes the chase.

"I’m retired, so I can go bug hunting until 12:30 a.m. and sleep as late as I want the next day," he said. "This is a great hobby and it gives me something to do. I wouldn’t want it any other way."

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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