All scorpions contain a sting in their tail. The strength of the venom varies dramatically between species. Species chosen as pets are usually chosen to have weak stings. They are similar in effect to a wasp or hornet sting. You don't want to be stung!
There are a few scorpions such as the African Androctonus australis whose stings can prove fatal. These should be avoided. If you intend to keep scorpions as pets, make sure they are the safe ones.
Scorpions are often referred to as insects, but this is false. Scorpions belong to a group of mostly terrestrial (land living) creatures officially classified as Arachnida (sub group Scorpiones). The Arachnid group also contains the order Araneae (spiders), Thelyphonids (whip scorpions), Amblypygi (tailless whip scorpions) and Solifugae (sun spiders). There are also several other orders that are rare in hobbyist collections.
Choosing a Scorpion
Scorpions commonly kept as pets tend to be from tropical rain-forests, as these are the largest, most impressive and least venomous. Most 'pet scorpions' live for several years in captivity. Lives more than 5 years are common.
Commonly kept pet scorpions include the Emperor or Imperial Scorpion (Pandinus imperator). This species is native to tropical forests of West Africa. It can often be found lurking inside termite mounds. It is a jet black monster, up to 6 inches long! Thankfully this species is fairly docile and reluctant to sting unless provoked.
Reasonably 'safe' ones with a sting like a wasp or hornet include:
- Imperial Scorpion - Pandinus imperator (mild sting - comparable to a bee sting)
- Flat Rock Scorpion - Hadogenes species
- Java Forest Scorpion - Hetrometrus javanensis
- Shiny Burrowing Scorpion - Oposthophalmus glabrifrons (more painful)
- Tanzanian Redclaw Scorpion - Pandinus cavimanus (more painful)
- Thai Black/Malaysian Forest Scorpion - Heterometrus spinifer (more painful)
Scorpions are cold-blooded and therefore need to eat only infrequently. Scorpions in the wild can go without food and water for months on end, seemingly without any detriment. When kept as pets, it is wise to make ample food available. Without it, they may start to attack and prey upon each other. Generally they are best kept singly. Some less aggressive species can be kept in small groups of up to four, given ample food, floor space and hiding places.
The easiest way to house your scorpion is in a terrarium of 12 to 18 inches wide and high. The size is not critical but shouldn't be too small. They like to burrow into the ground, especially under a rock or piece of wood. So, it's kind to provide a suitable substrate. A good mix for the bottom of the tank would consist of 70% sphagnum peat, 20% potting sand and 10% fine grade orchid bark. Faunology Scorpion Substrates are available.
An alternative to the above substrates is simple vermiculite on its own. This is sterile, so it won't contain mites or allow mites to flourish. However, bits can stick to the scorpion. Also, it does tend to look a tad drab!
Whichever substrate you choose, add it to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Place a couple of pieces of cork bark, a large(ish) piece of slate (or something similar) as 'obstacles.' Scorpions like to clamber over things. Artificial reptile caves either on the surface or partially buried are also good hiding spots for the scorpions. They will quickly establish their 'best home' and this will be their base of operations.
Jungle types require a reasonably humid environment. The substrate should be slightly damp (but not wet) when you add it to the tank.
The substrate in the base of the tank should be replaced with fresh material every 3 to 4 months or even longer if all looks fine and clean. Replace it more frequently if it gets dirty or mites are seen.
Heating and Humidity
In their natural environment, the temperature rarely drops below 20°C so you must reproduce these conditions within your tank. The simplest method is to use one of the under-tank heating mats, preferably with a thermostat fitted. The heating mat should be placed under 1/2 to 3/4 of the tank (at the opposite end to the hiding place) so a cooler area is available if the scorpion wants it.
The temperature in the tank must be in the range of 20°C to 25°C at soil level. So, place the thermostat control (if using one) about an inch above the substrate.
The jungle type scorpions require a humidity level higher than desert types. Whichever method you use, do not over wet it. The idea is to have it slightly moist but dry on the actual surface. A simple light spray (mist) with a hand sprayer over the substrate twice a day with clean, fresh water may be required. In addition water the substrate weekly if it looks like it's dry. Ideally you should have a dark bottom layer fading to pale near the surface of the substrate. If using vermiculite on its own then add 1/4 to 1/2 pint every week, pouring into one of the corners. The vermiculite will draw it evenly through itself.
Despite their radically different homes, most of the commonly kept scorpions have much the same requirements for housing. The external habitat changes, as the scorpions will always find a suitable home in deep cracks or under rocks. Use the same basic set-up as described above but use desert sand or substrate for these species rather than the jungle substrates. They should be a little dryer.
Most scorpions will eat almost any small cricket sized insects. Anything that stings or bites should not be introduced - there's no point risking your pets. Crickets, mealworm, grasshoppers, stick insects, some cockroaches etc. all make good prey for scorpions.
One vital element is that the insects should be alive when introduced to the tank. Scorpions will not eat dead insects.
If possible you should vary their diet, and not feed the same single food source all the time. This will help them develop fully and provide all the minerals, vitamins and fats they need for good growth. If using a single food source (e.g. just crickets) then you should make sure the crickets have been fed a good diet of bug grub as well as fruits and vegetables like carrots, potatos, green beans, spinnach, dandelion leaves, apple, banana, peach, etc. Not onions!
Large scorpions are unlikely to drown, so drinking water can be provided in a shallow dish, (of 1/2 inch deep.) If your scorpions are small or young then you should add well-wetted cotton wool or pebbles to the water dish to avoid drowning.
Captive breeding of Scorpions can be difficult and ofter requires patience. Scorpions will not breed unless they have a 'stage' on which to dance. The mating dance begins as the two scorpions lock their claws and walk forwards and backwards together. They may turn as they are doing this. The stage should be as flat as possible. A good idea is to use a piece of slate on the surface (see housing). The stage should be large enough that the pair don't drop off, as this will distract their mating.
The dance can continue from a few minutes to several hours, or even days. At a suitable time, only they know when, the male will deposit a packet of sperm onto the surface of the slate stage. This is called a spermatophore. The female will then position her body over the sperm sack and collect it with her cloacae (genital opening). Once the female has collected the sperm, the dance will end and the female should have conceived.
Two to three months after a successful mating, the female should be placed in her own tank. This should be before she gives birth. If she is stressed she may eat the young as they emerge. Gestation varies between species, but for the large scorpions it can be 5 to 9 months before she will give birth to miniature scorpions.
Once they emerge from her fat body they will climb onto her back and remain there for 1 to 2 weeks. As soon as they climb down, they should be separated from the mother or she may consider them a meal.
Scorpions molt as they develop into adults. Each molting is known as an instar and typically there are 5 or 6 depending on species and sex (male or female). Adulthood is usually around three years from birth.
Health and Disease
Scorpions live for many years in nature. As many will already be adults when purchased, no real estimate of life expectancy as pets can be made. They do not suffer from many diseases and veterinary attention is rarely needed. An environment and diet as described within the care sheets of WikiPets will preclude most problems and ensure a healthy life for your scorpion. Good practice, hygiene and first aid will probably deal with rest. If real disease or injury is discovered, a vet must of course be consulted. Pet scorpions do not pose a real threat to human health. All the normal hygiene precautions regarding humans and animals should be observed.