Scorpions are arachnids, i.e., arthropods that have eight legs, belonging to the same category as spiders and lobsters. They are easily recognizable from their distinct claws and a narrow, curved tail ending in a stinger. This stinger helps them to both hunt prey and defend themselves from predators.
Having undergone evolution from 435 million years ago to the present day, scorpions nowadays have 22 recognized families. They have been featured heavily in human art, folklore, and symbols due to their striking appearance.
List of the Common Types of Scorpions
There are over 1,500 classified species, but probably over 2,000 worldwide. These are some common ones:
Red Claw Scorpion
Indian Red Scorpion
Arizona Bark Scorpion
Giant Forest Scorpion
Tailless Whip Scorpion
Fat Tail Scorpion
Death Stalker Scorpion
Three Striped Scorpion
Arizona Hairy Scorpion
Striped-Tailed Wood Scorpion
Yellow Ground Scorpion
Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion
Physical Description and Appearance
Size: Length: 0.25-8.2 in (6.5 mm – 21 cm)
The smallest species is the Caribbean species Microtityus fundorai at 0.5 in, while the flat-rock scorpion is the largest at 8.2 in.
Weight: 0.02 to 0.2 oz (0.5 to 5 g)
The heaviest scorpion is the emperor scorpion at 2 oz (60 g).
Stinger: While not an actual tail, a sharp stinger with venom glands is observed at the end of the abdomen, closely resembling a needle.
Body and Coloration: Scorpions have eight legs and two central body regions, the cephalothorax and the abdomen. The cephalothorax has two eyes on top and two to five pairs of lateral eyes along each side. Other organs attached to the cephalothorax include the carapace (upper part of their exoskeleton), chelicerae or mouthparts, pedipalps or claws and the legs.
Most scorpions are either yellow or black, but some may also be red or brown.
Scorpions inhabit every continent on Earth except for Antarctica.
They primarily live in deserts, but one can find them in every terrestrial habitat, including high-elevation mountains, caves, and intertidal zones, that mostly serve as their hiding place. However, they are mostly absent from ecosystems such as the tundra, high-altitude taiga, and mountain tops.
How long do they live
These animals generally have a lifespan of 2-6 years in the wild.
What do they eat
Scorpions prey on insects, particularly beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, termites, and wasps. Other prey includes spiders, solifugids, woodlice, and even small vertebrates like lizards, snakes, and small mammals.
Most species are nocturnal or crepuscular, i.e., active at night and twilight respectively. During the day they mostly rest in caves, cracks in rocks, and barks of trees.
Majority of the scorpions are solitary, staying on their own. Interaction with another individual or a group happens before the birth of a young and during mating. A few species display social behavior however.
They are also known for their cannibalistic traits, so much so that the young often try avoiding interacting with their elders, so that they may not get eaten up.
When they feel threatened, scorpions use their claws to fend off their attackers.
Arthropods like ants, centipedes, spiders, and solifugids may attack scorpions. Major predators include birds, frogs, lizards, snakes, and mammals, especially meerkats, which bite off their stingers and are immune to their venom. Other mammals adapted for hunting scorpions include the grasshopper mouse and desert long-eared bat, immune to their poison.
The stinger is used both for killing prey and defense. Some species are direct and quick in striking, while some strike in a slow and circular manner.
Scorpions’ exoskeletons and hard body casing provide excellent protection from the fluctuating temperatures, helping them survive the harshest weather conditions. It even serves as a defense mechanism against predators.
Their low food and water requirements, due to their decreased metabolism, allow them to survive harsh environments. Some are able to go for up to 12 days without both, excreting only insoluble compounds to conserve water.
Their sharp claws have several purposes that include helping the scorpions to defend themselves upon sensing a threat, dig burrows, and even holding onto prey and their mates.
Because of their hardened exterior and low metabolism, they can survive the harshest weather conditions, from scorching heat to chilling cold. Researchers have reported observing frozen scorpions get back to their regular form upon being exposed to sunlight.
With the help of sensory hair-like structures on their legs and abdomen, they can detect vibrations and determine which direction to move.
How do they reproduce
Most scorpions undergo sexual reproduction. Receptive females produce pheromones that wandering males pick up. Males begin courtship by swaying, producing ground vibrations picked up by the female.
The pair then make contact and dance as the male searches for a suitable place to deposit his spermatophore. This process ranges from a few minutes to several hours. Once mating is complete, the duo abruptly separate.
Gestation period varies from one species to the other, between 3 and 18 months. Unlike most arachnids, which hatch from eggs, scorpions undergo live births. The size of a brood ranges vastly from 3 to over 100.
Juvenile instars resemble miniature adults but are still soft and ride on their mother’s back for safety. The mother could sometimes eat her babies out of compulsion when food source is extremely scarce. Once their exoskeleton is completely hardened, the young will hunt prey on their own, soon leaving their mother. Scorpions reach maturity at varying ages depending on the species, ranging from 6 to 83 months.
According to the IUCN, none of the species of scorpion are considered endangered currently.
Scorpions – FAQs
1. Are scorpions deadly?
Scorpion stings are painful but rarely life-threatening, with only about 30 of the estimated 1,500 species producing venom toxic enough to be fatal. Some of the deadliest scorpions include the Deathstalker scorpion, the Indian red scorpion, and the Yellow fat-tailed scorpion.
2. Are all scorpions poisonous?
Yes, all scorpions are poisonous, but the effectiveness of their venom varies from one species to the other. Scorpions maintain the same potency of venom throughout their lives, from babies to adults.
3. Can scorpions swim?
While not being natural swimmers, scorpions are capable of being submerged in water for as long as 48 hours without drowning or hurting themselves. This is because their outer exoskeleton can absorb and store oxygen.
4. Why do scorpions glow?
The outer layer of the scorpion’s exoskeleton has a cuticle with a thin section called the “hyaline layer”. This coating reacts to ultraviolet lights like black light causing the scorpion’s body to glow.
5. Can scorpions climb walls?
They are very good climbers, doing so with small pincers at the tips of their legs.
6. Do scorpions hibernate?
There is a common misconception that scorpions die in winter. However, the fact is that they hibernate during this time, perhaps to places where they could find warmth.
7. Do scorpions bite?
No, scorpions do not bite. They can only sting.
8. Do scorpions make noise?
Scorpions emit a hissing sound when feeling defensive.
9. How fast are scorpions?
They are extremely fast, reaching speeds of 12 mph.
10. Do scorpions die after stinging?
No, as unlike a bee their stinger normally doesn’t get embedded in their victim. In certain cases where that does happen, the stinger simply grows back.
Scorpions have made a significant impact on human culture and history. They are kept as pets, consumed as edible delicacies in certain parts of the world, and their venom is used to prepare medicines.
One of the 12 zodiac constellations is based on the scorpion, appropriately named Scorpio.
The scorpion has been used to symbolize various brands or products, including tattoos, weapons, and vehicles.
Fear of scorpions is called arachnophobia, a term used to define fear of all arachnids, including spiders as well.