Caring for your Pet Scorpions
Scorpions are the most ancient lineage of terrestrial higher animals (metazoans) known, with fossils dating back to the Silurian era 400+ millions of years ago.
Though diverse in their habitats, Scorpions as a group possess an easily recognized form or ‘morphology’. They are all fascinating and a number make excellent pets – because they are relatively easy to keep.
They will live a number of years (for the larger species more than 6 years) and in many cases can often be kept in small groups, unlike other invertebrate carnivores.
Most of the 1,500 known species come from hot and dry (i.e. arid) environments, though many of the best species to keep as pets come from tropical rainforests. Some species can go months without water, and even longer without food, though it is not good to stress them like this.
Most of the species which make good pets can not climb the sides of Glass Tanks or ‘Small Pal Pens’.
In fact, there is a general rule of thumb that says; “If a scorpion can climb the walls of its tank then its sting is very dangerous”.
All species of Scorpions possess a ‘sting’ in their tail and even in the mildest species this can cause considerable pain – while a number of species are potentially lethal. I do not recommend that anybody who is reading this in order to learn about keeping pet Scorpions keep any but the gentlest species, see list at the end of this document.
Rainforest species need to be kept in a moist habitat at all times, though obviously desert species require a dryer environment; otherwise the basic requirements are the same.
Keep them warm, though some species can tolerate cooler temperature, they all do best at about 25C.
The best method is to house them in a specially heated room, but for most people this is not possible. Another alternative is to keep the cage in an airing cabinet.
The most common method is to use a heatpad, these come in a variety of shapes and sizes and it is best to talk to your local seller as to what you need. But beware of over heating as pet scorpions (like Cockroaches) will burrow to escape excess heat – thus cooking themselves if the heat mat is the problem.
A good general estimate is that the pad should rest comfortably under the cage/aquarium so that two thirds of the bottom of the cage is directly over the pad. This allows a gradient of heat to arise, giving the cockroaches some choice over what temperature they experience.
The use of a thermostat can make things easier but it isn’t really necessary for most of the commonly kept species.
All the species of Scorpion commonly kept in captivity are burrowing species. Though some will dig quite deep holes in the wild, 5 to 7 cms of a peat-like substrate will be sufficient in captivity. They will also require a few pieces of flatish wood and/or stone to burrow under.
Some species of Scorpion, such as Pandinus imperator (The Emperor) will eat almost anything that they can hold onto – providing it is alive. Crickets are the usual food, though I find woodlice Porcellio scaber are also quite useful; obviously smaller specimens and species require smaller prey items.
Some of the larger species have been known to take small mammals and reptiles, as well when full grown. Though pet Scorpions can go for very long times without food, it is best to offer them as much as they will eat. Some people find that Emperors will also eat green peanuts.
Scorpions indulge a a courtship dance and they will need a certain amount of flat space on the floor of the tank to dance on. This needs to be large enough to allow the two to move around on without too many obstacles interfering with their dance.
The courtship dance, called the ‘Promenade a deux’, involves the pair gripping each other with their ‘pedipalp chelae’ (claws) and walking backward and forward in tandem until a suitable place is found for the male to deposit his spermatophore (this is a small bag of sperm which the female will pick up with her genital opening).
After the female has collected the spermatophore and is therefore inseminated, the pair part. Parthenogenesis is known from a few species of Scorpions, but not from those that are generally kept as pets.
Pregnant females are obviously very fat looking and should be removed from the communal tank and placed in a separate one to avoid her experiencing too much disturbance, until the young are independent (disturbed females have been known to eat their own young).
In the larger species it takes 6 to 9 months from insemination to birth of the young. All Scorpions are ‘viviparous’ (i.e. they give birth to live young). On being born, the young escape from the birth sack (in those species which have one) and then climb up the female’s back legs onto her back.
The young will stay on the female’s back for 1 to 2 weeks, after which they will undergo their 1st moult before leaving this parental protection. The use of tritiated water (a harmless form of isotopic labelling) has shown that the young do acquire some water from the mothers – though it is not known how.
Once down from the female’s back, the young will be ready to fend for themselves and will need to be separated from the mother in most cases.
In some species the female forgets her maternal instincts easily and will consider these free running young as potential prey.
In other species, though not those normally kept as pets, the females have been known to share their prey with their young. Therefore it is best to return the mother to her normal cage after the young have come down.
Most deaths occur during these 1st two instars and once into their 3rd instar they are fairly easy to rear .
Most species have 5 instars as males and 6 as females. Growth rate is dependent on species, food intake and temperature; though it is not unusual for the large species to take over 3 years to reach maturity. The number of young is also very variable.
Recommended Scorpion Species For Pets
Both these species are relatively easy to rear and stings like a wasp:
- Pandinus imperator = The Emperor (large rainforest species, easy to obtain)
- Pandinus cavimanus = Tanzanian Redclaw (large rainforest species, easy to obtain)
Both these species are very easy to rear in groups and are worth the cost if you can get them, stings like a wasp:
- Heterometrus spinifer = Thai Black (larger rainforest species, hard to obtain)
- Heterometrus javanensis = Javanese Jungle Scorpion (larger rainforest species, hard to obtain)
Desert species, not that hard to obtain, sting quite painful:
- Hadrurus hirsutus and Hadrurus arizonensis = both known as Desert Hairy Scorpion,
This species is more aggressive than the above and groups have been known to break down resulting in loss of Scorpions; its sting is more painful, more like a hornet than a wasp:
- Bothriurus bonnariensis = Chilean Chocolate
Species to Avoid
Scorpio maurus is another species sometimes found in pet shops. This is quite a dangerous species in its own rite, however misidentification by importers sometimes results in young Androctonus australis being sold under the name of Scorpio maurus.
- Androctonus australis (Highly venomous species which is potentially lethal)
- Vaejovis sp. (Very painful)
- Centuroides sp. (Potentially lethal)
Despite their potential for causing pain, Scorpions are fun pets and I hope you enjoy keeping yours.