Scorpion Facts: What You Need to Know
While it’s never pleasant to see a scorpion in your home, some scorpion facts are pretty interesting. For instance, even though scorpions are categorized as ‟stinging pests” (a category that includes bees and wasps), they are actually arachnids, making them more closely related to spiders, ticks and mites. These venomous arthropods belong to the Arachnida class and more than 1,300 different species roam the Earth.
Ancient scorpion facts
Scorpions are the oldest known arthropods on the planet, and they played a prominent role in Greek mythology. One story includes giant scorpions that were sent by Gaia to slay the giant Orion when he threatened the world. Orion’s battle with these giant creatures is depicted by two sets of constellations in the sky: Orion and Scorpius. The scorpion made its way into astrology, with the Scorpio zodiac sign representing those born between October 23 and November 22.
Fossils of scorpions have been found in the strata of the Paleozoic Era, many of them with very few differences from the scorpions that walk the Earth today. That means if you were to hop into a time machine and travel back 430 million years, the scorpions you’d see would be immediately recognizable – and just as scary. As you can see, scorpions have played a big part in human history and lore. We’ve been fascinated by these creatures for centuries.
Scorpions in the United States
Come back to modern day America and there are only about 90 species that inhabit the United States. Of these, only one species is potentially deadly – the Arizona bark scorpion. (Worldwide, there are 25 species of lethal scorpions, the deadliest of all being the Indian red scorpion.) Unfortunately, the Arizona bark scorpion is one of the four most common species of scorpions to invade homes. The other three are the striped tail scorpion, the desert hairy scorpion and the common striped bark scorpion.
General scorpion facts
Most types of scorpions are pretty small, measuring between 1 and 5 inches in length. Unfortunately, the smaller the scorpion, the more potent or deadly their venom. The largest scorpion in the world is the long-tailed African scorpion, measuring over 8 inches in length. In the U.S., giant desert hairy scorpions grow to be about 5 inches in length. No matter the size, the typical scorpion lifespan averages between three and five years, though some can live up to 25 years.
The unique body of a scorpion
Like all arachnids, scorpions have some special body parts that help them hunt and survive. The pincer-like claws that help scorpions grab their prey and defend against attackers are called pedipalps. While they can assist in walking, they’re not actually legs. Behind the pedipalps are four pairs of legs that allow the scorpion to quickly chase down its prey and scurry away from danger.
The claw-like pedipalps are powerful and serve to pass any captured prey to their chelicerae, which are the mouthparts of the scorpion. The chelicerae have pincers of their own that serve to tear off little chunks of the victim, which are then digested externally in the preoral cavity, before finally being sucked up in liquid form by the scorpion.
A scorpion’s body consists of two main regions: the abdomen and the cephalothorax. The cephalothorax is protected by the head shield (carapace), which is where the scorpion’s eyes are located. Most scorpions have between two and five pairs of eyes, arranged laterally, but some species have no eyes at all. Scorpions with no eyes tend to dwell in caves and rely on one little known scorpion fact that is common throughout the species: Scorpions have heightened senses of awareness.
Scorpion senses are tingling
This increased cognizance is due to the fact that the body of the scorpion is covered with many different types of tiny sensory hairs that help alert it to both prey and danger. Along their underside, scorpions also have a pair of organs that can best be described as sensory combs. These ‟pectines” have teeth that sense surface vibration and texture, allowing this avid hunter to be constantly aware of any approaching prey or danger.
The pectines have chemical and pheromone receptors that further enhance the awareness of this highly tuned creature. Scorpions can sense the size, shape and proximity of anything around it, even humans. This plays a big role in how they have survived on the Earth for so long – they’re the ultimate combination of deadly hunter and armored evader.
Tail and stinger
Aside from the pedipalps, the abdomen of the scorpion is probably its most distinct feature. Each scorpion abdomen has 12 segments, the final five of which (the metasoma) are commonly referred to as the ‟tail.” The tail of the scorpion bends up and over the arachnid’s head, unlike other creatures, whose tails generally bend down towards the ground, much like a dog’s.
At the tip of the abdomen is the bulbous ‟telson,” which houses the glands that produce the scorpion’s notorious venom. At the end of the telson is a curved, sharp stinger, used to puncture prey and attacker alike, delivering a potent dose of venom. The venom serves to paralyze anything the scorpion attacks, allowing the scorpion to either feed on it with ease, or scurry away to safety. In some cases, the venom is even used to subdue mates.
Scorpion venom facts
All scorpions produce venom, but their first instinct is to run or hide when confronted with danger. Stinging is a last resort. (This reluctance to sting didn’t prevent Mexico’s scorpion death rate from averaging 800 deaths per year during the 1980s.) Further, scorpions are able to control the amount of venom they release in each sting, so some stings are less venomous than others, while other stings might not contain any venom at all. It’s generally believed that the amount of venom released by the scorpion depends on how much danger they believe they are in.
Many of the scorpion facts that concern scientists and doctors have to do with the venom these arachnids produce. Not only is the venom studied to produce antivenins to treat those who have been stung, but also strangely enough, venoms might hold the key to curing other ailments and diseases.
The key here is the complex neurotoxins in the venom, which affect the nervous system. Each species has its own unique mixture of venom. Peptides in some types of scorpion venom trigger cellular death, which might hold the key to curing cancer. This theory has been around for some time, but it is only modern nanotechnology that is allowing scientists to explore safe delivery of the scorpion venom to cancerous cells and tumors. Once the venom reaches the tumors, it sets to work and destroys the cancer.
Shedding more light on scorpions
Perhaps one of the most interesting scorpion facts is that these night crawlers glow under ultraviolet (UV) light. This can be particularly chilling if you turn on your black light in your room and find a neon-blue scorpion glowing in the dark, but it can also be helpful for detecting scorpion nests around your home before they have a chance to come inside.
The reason scorpions glow is clear: When UV light hits the proteins in their exoskeletons, the proteins become visible to the naked human eye. The purpose for this glow is still unknown and highly debated. Some think that scorpions can identify one another through this glowing. Others think it’s used to bewilder prey or is possibly a reaction of the natural ‟sunscreen” these common desert-dwellers produce. Current theories are concentrating on whether the scorpions use the UV light reflected off of the moon to determine when the best time is to come out of hiding and hunt prey. Whatever the case is, all scorpions glow under UV light.
Strangely enough, there are some arachnids that look like scorpions, but aren’t. These pseudo-scorpions are not true scorpions, though you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference with some species. One example is the wind scorpion (also known as the spider scorpion), which is neither a spider nor a scorpion. Though it can’t sting and isn’t venomous, it can inflict a nasty bite and has pedipalps that resemble true scorpions.
Solpugids have the telltale pincer-like pedipalps of a scorpion, but lack an actual tail and the ability to produce venom. The whip scorpion might look like a black scorpion, but instead of a stinging tail, it has a whip tail used for defense, and can aim and shoot acetic acid (similar to that found in vinegar) at its prey. There is also a tailless whip scorpion and many more arachnids of this nature, most of which are extremely beneficial to the environment, especially since they eat cockroaches.
One of the best uses of these scorpion facts is keeping your home free of these stinging pests. Scorpions are beneficial to the environment, but they are also downright scary and can even be deadly. If you see a scorpion in your home, you should try to place a bucket or similar container over it, and then call Terminix® right away. A service technician will be able to use their knowledge of scorpion facts and habits to help make your home less attractive to these ancient pests.