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What is a Scorpion?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 21, 2024
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A scorpion is an arthropod in the class arachnida, which includes spiders, mites and ticks. Arthropods have an outer skeleton with a segmented body composition and jointed legs. Scorpions have a rectangular or oval midsection that tapers into a distinctive raised-up tail with a curled tip. Their eight legs include two large front claws called pedipalps. The telson, or tip of the tail, contains venom-filled glands made to dissolve the tissues of its prey.

The tail's tip injects venom as it stings; some, but not all scorpion species, are deadly to humans. Smaller prey such as spiders and insects are killed immediately by the sting. For humans, even if stings by scorpions aren't deadly, they're usually quite painful. If the creatures feel threatened, they're likely to sting. Feather-like sensory organs called pectines hang under the abdomen, while the feet and pedipalps also sense vibrations.

In addition to the abdomen section, the other main part of a scorpion is its head. Its eyes are located in the middle of the head. Depending on the species, scorpions may have two to five pairs of eyes. Some species have no eyes.

Scorpions range in length between about 2-5 inches (5.8-12.7 cm). One type, Hadogenes troglodytes, or African scorpion, commonly reaches 8 inches (20.32 cm) or larger. Larger scorpions may prey on bats and birds, while smaller species tend to eat mainly insects and spiders.

Although most scorpions are found in warmer climates, they are adaptable. Worldwide, scorpions survive everywhere except Antarctica. Scorpions aren't native to England or Australia, but were thought to have been brought there accidentally on cargo trade ships. This species, Euscorpius flavicaudis, is non-venomous. While some scorpion species live in trees, many others thrive in mountains, caves, rocky areas and deserts; in the United States, the majority of scorpions are found in the Southwest.

Throughout the world, there are at least 1,300-2,000 known species and sub-species of scorpion. While all scorpions have the same basic structure, the colors vary from beige to black; some are pink, while others feature stripes. Scorpions are nocturnal, which means they are out at night and hide during the day. Rock piles and logs are typical daytime areas for scorpions. Some species are burrowers that spend most of their time in sand.

Most scorpion species reproduce sexually; during mating, the male and female scorpions use their pedipalps to clasp onto each other in a distinctive dance-like movement. Some female scorpions birth live young while others carry eggs in their body until they hatch. In some scorpion species, males aren't needed as the females can produce up to thousands of eggs. This reproductive process is called parthenogenesis. The lifespan of scorpions is up to 20 years depending on their species.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a scorpion?

A scorpion is an arachnid, closely related to spiders, mites, and ticks. They are known for their segmented tails that end in a venomous stinger, used primarily for hunting and defense. Scorpions have eight legs, a pair of pincers, and a tough exoskeleton. They are found on all continents except Antarctica and have adapted to a wide range of environments.

How many species of scorpions are there?

There are over 2,000 known species of scorpions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, only about 30 to 40 of these species have venom potent enough to be dangerous to humans. Scorpions are highly adaptable and can be found in diverse habitats, from deserts to tropical forests.

What do scorpions eat?

Scorpions are carnivorous predators, primarily feeding on insects, spiders, and sometimes small mammals, lizards, and other scorpions. They use their pincers to capture and crush prey, and their venom to subdue it. Scorpions have a slow metabolism and can survive on very little food; some species can go for up to a year without eating.

How dangerous are scorpions to humans?

Most scorpion stings are not life-threatening to humans and result in symptoms similar to a bee sting. However, stings from species like the Arizona bark scorpion can be more serious, especially for children and the elderly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fatalities from scorpion stings are rare, with effective antivenoms available in regions where dangerous scorpions live.

Can scorpions live in cold climates?

While scorpions are commonly associated with hot and arid climates, some species have adapted to live in colder environments. They can be found in mountainous areas and can survive temperatures below freezing by entering a state of dormancy called diapause, which allows them to conserve energy until conditions improve.

How do scorpions reproduce?

Scorpions reproduce through a courtship dance followed by the male depositing a spermatophore, which the female picks up to fertilize her eggs. Scorpions exhibit viviparity, meaning they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. The young scorpions, called scorplings, ride on their mother's back for protection until their first molt.

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Discussion Comments

By clintflint — On Nov 11, 2014

@MrsPramm - I've always found it interesting that people think scorpions are so scary. They get scorpion tattoos and scorpion patches and so forth with the intention of warning people away. But whenever I've lived in an area where there were a lot of scorpions, people didn't see them as being any different from any other kind of bug, because they essentially aren't. They just look scary.

By MrsPramm — On Nov 10, 2014

@Fa5t3r - It might be partly because you are unfamiliar with them that you fear them. I suspect people tend to be most nervous around creepy-crawlies they haven't seen very much because they don't know how to predict their movements.

Scorpions also tend to hide in dark spaces, underneath things or in places like shoes, so it's probably not a bad thing to have a healthy respect for them. As long as people don't panic around them, they are easy to avoid.

By Fa5t3r — On Nov 09, 2014

I don't know why exactly but I've always been irrationally scared of scorpions. Spiders and snakes and other creatures that people are usually scared of don't bother me at all, but for some reason if I see a scorpion I will run a mile.

The thing is, I actually know that most scorpions aren't even that dangerous to people. Apparently the average scorpion sting is about as dangerous as a bee sting and even the more venomous ones usually aren't enough to kill a healthy adult.

It doesn't matter how much I reason with myself I never get over the fear. I guess it doesn't really matter though since I don't live in a place where there are native scorpions.

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