Scorpion Natural History

Credit: Wiki Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0

There is no sight quite as menacing as a scorpion with its barbed tail poised, ready to strike. These predatory hunters are one of the most recognizable types of animals on the planet and are known for their distinct appearance, coiled tails, and aggressive hunting tactics.

Scorpions are often lumped in with other creepy crawlies as a type of bug, but scorpions are not bugs—they aren’t even insects at all. Scorpions are classified as arachnids that fall under the order Scorpiones and are more closely related to spiders and ticks, two other arachnids that are often incorrectly considered insects.

There are over 2,500 known species of scorpion distributed over 22 extant families. Archaeological evidence suggests that scorpions first emerged 435 million years ago during the Silurian period. They currently exist on every continent except for Antarctica. They are even considered a delicacy in some cultures!

Scorpion Anatomy

Credit: D Valke via Flickr CC-BY-SA 2.0

Scorpion size and coloring vary but they all share common morphological features. All scorpions have two-segment bodies (called tagmata) that are divided into the cephalothorax and abdomen. Scorpions have 8 legs and a large set of claws attached to pedipalps. They use their claws to grasp and manipulate objects and prey. The abdomen of the scorpion is pocketed with spiracles that allow the arachnid to respirate oxygen and the center of the hind section contains the heart.

Aside from the claws, the tail is probably the most notable feature of scorpions. Scorpion tails are usually made out of 5 segments, and a final sixth segment called the telson that ends in a stinger and contains the venom glands. Scorpion tails are controlled by a set of external muscles that move the tail and an internal muscle system that delivers venom. Nearly all scorpions have venom but only about 20-or-so species carry venom potent enough to seriously harm humans. 

Diet and Behavior

Most scorpions are active during twilight or night and spend their days hidden under rocks, bushes, and tree bark. Some species burrow complex labyrinths in the dirt using their claws and legs. In general, scorpions prefer hotter areas but can survive in the cold. Since scorpions often live in arid, desert climates, many species have evolved tricks for conserving water. For example, some species only excrete insoluble compounds to save water. 

Generally speaking, scorpions are aggressive and effective hunters. They use their powerful claws and tail to pierce, rip, and shred prey. A handful of species will even squirt venom to distract and incapacitate their food. Scorpions maintain very dextrous control of their tails and can strike at speeds up to 128 cm per second. Their diet consists primarily of insects like grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and wasps. Some larger species are known to hunt mammals, amphibians, and birds.

Mating Behavior

Scorpion mating involves a complex courtship dance where males and females will grasp each other’s claws and mouthparts. Unlike the vast majority of arachnids, scorpions do not lay eggs and instead give live births. They are also unusual in that mothers tend to give a large amount of care to their young. Scorpion lifespan varies greatly depending on species, with some documented specimens living up to 25 years.

If you are interested in having a preserved framed scorpion, we have a unique museum quality framed one available.   If you like arachnids, we also have framed spiders, framed whip scorpions.