The Unlikely Pet
Scorpions may be more likely to appear as antagonists in people's nightmares than as pets in their home, but they make for surprisingly easy going and interesting pets.
I must admit: there are few things in the world that give me knee-jerk fear—one of which is something I sell. That would be the centipede. The scorpion, on the other hand, which strikes fear in the hearts many, has never scared me.
I never worked with scorpions before entering the pet profession, but when I encountered them in the wild, I admired their wonderful design and found them fascinating and deserving of great respect. When introduced to them as pets, my admiration for their physical beauty and interest in their lives only increased. And when I found out that some of them were capable of being tamed, well, then I was sold.
That’s right. Scorpions, at least some species, tame easily and can actually make true pets.
One nice facet of keeping scorpions is that the upkeep is minimal. Once proper temperature and humidity are achieved and stabilized, one need only worry about tossing the scorpion a few crickets a week. That’s it. In fact, in my experience, most people fail with arachnids in general by overfeeding them.
For the purposes of care, scorpions generally fall into two camps: the deserts and the forests. I keep most forest species on cypress mulch or orchid bark. Desert species will do well on sand. Both species do well with mild heat—mid-70s to low 80s—provided by an under-tank heater. I always keep my heat sources on rheostats so that the cage temperatures can be finely tuned. Humidity for forest scorpions is easily achieved by keeping the bedding damp and keeping the tank’s ventilation minimal. For desert dwellers, a clump of moss kept in one corner and dampened frequently will do the trick.
Many scorpion species are, in sharp contrast to most spiders, communal. That most assuredly does not mean that you can mix species, but a well-fed group of same-species scorpions can form quite a nice colony.
Reptile Industries' Stephen K. Mui offers a few tips for displaying
scorpions in the pet store. Scroll down or click HERE.
One of the most frequently retold scorpion myths posits that a scorpion’s claw size will inversely reflect the severity of its sting. This is not consistently true. Anyone who wants to test this theory out across even a narrow range of scorpions is in for a big surprise, one they might not even live to regret.
However, there is a cool aspect to the scorpion hobby many people don’t know: when exposed to a black light, scorpions will fluoresce. They glow a lovely ghostly green. Keeping a black light on hand can be a useful sales tool, but use it sparingly as repeated exposure will diminish the effect.
Of the scorpions on the pet market, by far the most commonly available and popular is the emperor. A native of West Africa, these gentle giants are also the most easily handled and tamed. These are forest dwellers from the lowlands. With a five-inch body length—many are easily nine inches stretched out—these are certainly big enough. They are jet black in normal light, and the greenish sub-color has a little known specific name: corbeau. Be aware that there is a subspecies of emperor that has a brownish-red tint to the claw, aptly called Red-Claw Scorpions, and most of these are decidedly less amenable to handling.
When I first started in this industry, word was that emperors could not be easily handled, but the similar looking Asian black scorpion (Heterometrus longimanus) was almost tame straight out of the wild. Indeed, for a few years, that was my experience as well. I am not sure what changed; perhaps they were being collected from a different part of their range, but change did occur. Pretty soon, the Asian blacks coming in seemed intent on killing me, and, almost simultaneously the emperors seemed to be coming in after having attended anger management classes.
The Asian blacks are also forest dwellers, a little smaller than Emperors, but otherwise they are nearly identical. So, how do you tell the difference? Emperors get larger, and are more docile, but the real tell on them is the color of the stinger: Asians’ are red to black, whereas emperors’ are amber to off-white.
The most popularly offered desert scorpion is a beautiful golden color. The desert hairy (Hadrurus arizonensis) is a dweller of the American southwest. The largest of the United States scorpions, with a bit of effort, it is tamable. In my experience, the difficulty with them is that they move with stunning speed, so they are probably not a good choice for newcomers.
On the other hand, the flat rock scorpion (Hadogenes troglodytes) is a desert species from South Africa that seems loathe to sting at all and, while maybe not exactly tamable, it is handled fairly well with a little effort. It is unique in appearance, with a squat, round body offset by long, elegant claws and a graceful tail, reminding me of ancient giant sea scorpions.
A few words on handling scorpions: keep in mind that scorpion toxins can produce a wide array of reactions, dependent not only on the strength of the toxin and amount of venom injected, but also on the individual’s allergic reaction to the specific venom. Just as bee stings are fatal to some people but not most, scorpion stings from even a famously mild scorpion can induce reactions in some people warranting hospitalization or worse. I never sell one without letting folks know the potential for problems.
That being said, the scorpions mentioned above are all considered relatively mild animals. Remember, once a scorpion is situated comfortably on your hand, from its perspective it is on the ground. Do scorpions sting the ground? Of course not. The trick, of course, is getting them onto your hand in the first place. The scorpions’ stingers are mobile front to back, but most species can not rotate from side to side. Thus, if you grasp the stinger itself between your thumb and forefinger, it will be impossible for the scorpion to sting you. I consider the tail of the flat rock to be too delicate to pick up in this way—they are easily scooped up by approaching from behind and underneath—but the others can be picked up in this manner. Still, watch the claws. The emperor, in particular, can give a wallop of a pinch.
Owen Maercks has enjoyed being immersed in the world of professional herpetoculture for nearly 30 years. His store, the East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, Calif., is one of the oldest and largest herptile specialty stores in the U.S.
Displaying Emperor Scorpions
Because they are fossorial, creating an engaging display of scorpions in a pet store can be challenging. With this in mind, Stephen K. Mui, director of animals and personal manager for Reptile Industries, Inc., offers these display tips:
- Instead of just a hide house on the bottom of the cage, use thin strips of wood/slate on top of each other, with one-inch pegs between (glue the pegs on each shelf for safety) to create a condo. When placed in the front of the display, customers can readily see the display inhabitants, and more can be housed together.
- If the scorpions are set up in a dark area, the use of a black light during the day will help show it off. Keep in mind that this is not recommended for 24-hour use. Also, make sure the scorpion always has a moist spot.
- If the substrate can be shifted to the front of the cage, that can help show off the scorpions inside, as they do seem to wander to the higher areas. A small flat piece of cork bark or fake mushroom glued to the front of the display, yet still one inch above the substrate, will help in giving the scorpion a hide and the customers a better view.