Indian Red Scorpion Facts

Scientific Name: Hottentotta tamulus

Indian red scorpion
Indian red scorpion.

 ePhotocorp / Getty Images

The Indian red scorpion (Hottentotta tamulus) or eastern Indian scorpion is considered to be the most lethal scorpion in the world. Despite its common name, the scorpion isn't necessarily red. It can range in color from reddish brown to orange or brown. The Indian red scorpion doesn't hunt people, but it will sting to defend itself. Children are most likely to die from stings because of their small size.

Fast Facts: Indian Red Scorpion

  • Scientific Name: Hottentotta tamulus
  • Common Names: Indian red scorpion, eastern Indian scorpion
  • Basic Animal Group: Invertebrate
  • Size: 2.0-3.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years (captivity)
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Habitat: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka
  • Population: Abundant
  • Conservation Status: Not evaluated

Description

The Indian red scorpion is a fairly small scorpion, ranging from 2 to 3-1/2 inches in length. It ranges in color from bright reddish orange to dull brown. The species has distinctive dark gray ridges and granulation. It has relatively small pincers, a thickened "tail" (telson) and a large stinger. As with spiders, male scorpion pedipalps appear somewhat inflated compared to those of females. Like other scorpions, the Indian red scorpion is fluorescent under black light.

Hottentotta tamulus
Several color morphs of Indian red scorpions exist. Sagar khunte / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Habitat and Distribution

The species is found in India, eastern Pakistan, and eastern Nepal. Recently, it has been seen (rarely) in Sri Lanka. Although little is known about the Indian red scorpion's ecology, it appears to prefer humid tropical and subtropical habitats. It often lives near or in human settlements.

Diet and Behavior

The Indian red scorpion is a carnivore. It is a nocturnal ambush predator that detects prey by vibration and subdues it using its chelae (claws) and stinger. It feeds on cockroaches and other invertebrates and sometimes small vertebrates, such as lizards and rodents.

Reproduction and Offspring

In general, scorpions reach sexual maturity between 1 and 3 years of age. While some species can reproduce asexually via parthenogenesis, the Indian red scorpion only reproduces sexually. Mating occurs following a complex courtship ritual in which the male grasps the female's pedipalps and dances with her until he finds a suitable flat area to deposit his spermatophore. He guides the female over the spermatophore and she accepts it into her genital opening. While scorpion females tend not to eat their mates, sexual cannibalism is not unknown, so males quickly depart following mating.

Females give birth to live young, which are called scorplings. The young resemble their parents except they are white and unable to sting. They stay with their mother, riding on her back, at least until after their first molt. In captivity, Indian red scorpions live 3 to 5 years.

Indian red scorpion with young
The female Indian red scorpion carries her young on her back. Akash M. Deshmukh / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has not evaluated the conservation status of the Indian red scorpion. The scorpion is abundant within its range (except for Sri Lanka). However, there are high bounties on collection of wild specimens for scientific research, plus they may be captured for the pet trade. The population trend of the species is unknown.

Indian Red Scorpions and Humans

Despite their potent venom, Indian red scorpions are kept as pets. They are also kept and bred in captivity for medical research. Scorpion toxins include potassium channel-blocking peptides, which may have use as immunosuppressants for autoimmune disorders (e.g., multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis). Some toxins may have application in dermatology, cancer treatment, and as antimalarial drugs.

Indian red scorpion stings are not uncommon in India and Nepal. While the scorpions are not aggressive, they will sting when stepped on or otherwise threatened. Reported clinical fatality rates range from 8 to 40%. Children are the most common victims. Symptoms of envenomation include severe pain at the site of the sting, vomiting, sweating, breathlessness, and alternating high and low blood pressure and heart rate. The venom targets the pulmonary and cardiovascular system and can cause death from pulmonary edema. While antivenom has little effectiveness, administration of the blood pressure medication prazosin can reduce the mortality rate to less than 4%. Some persons suffer severe allergic reactions to the venom and antivenom, including anaphylaxis.

Sources

  • Bawaskar, H.S. and P.H. Bawaskar. "Indian red scorpion envenoming." Indian Journal of Pediatrics. 65 (3): 383–391, 1998. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(95)00005-7
  • Ismail, M. and P. H. Bawaskar. "The scorpion envenoming syndrome." Toxicon. 33 (7): 825–858, 1995. PMID:8588209
  • Kovařík, F. "A revision of the genus Hottentotta Birula, 1908, with descriptions of four new species." Euscorpius. 58: 1–105, 2007.
  • Nagaraj, S.K.; Dattatreya, P.; Boramuth, T.N. Indian scorpions collected in Karnataka: maintenance in captivity, venom extraction and toxicity studies. J. Venom Anim Toxins Incl Trop Dis. 2015; 21: 51. doi:10.1186/s40409-015-0053-4
  • Polis, Gary A. The Biology of Scorpions. Stanford University Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0-8047-1249-1.