10 Fascinating Facts About Scorpions

Close up view of a scorpion sitting on the dirt in profile.

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Most people know scorpions can inflict a painful sting, but not much else about the amazing arthropods. Find out ten fascinating facts about scorpions.

01
of 10

They Give Birth to Live Young

Mother scorpion with babies on her back.

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Unlike insects, which generally deposit eggs outside their bodies, scorpions produce live babies, a practice known as viviparity. Some scorpions develop within a membrane, where they receive nourishment both from a yolk and from their mothers. Others develop without a membrane and receive nourishment directly from their mothers. The gestational stage can be as short as two months, or as long as 18 months, depending on the species. After birth, the newborn scorpions ride on their mother's back, where they remain protected until they molt for the first time. After this, they disperse. 

02
of 10

They Have Long Life Spans

Black scorpion walking across sandy ground.

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Most arthropods have relatively brief lives compared to other animals. Many insects live just weeks or months. Mayflies last just a few days. But scorpions are among the arthropods with the longest lifespans. In the wild, scorpions typically live from two to ten years. In captivity, scorpions have lived as long as 25 years. 

03
of 10

They Are Ancient Organisms

Ancient sea scorpion fossil.

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Were you able to travel back in time 300 million years, you would encounter scorpions that look remarkably similar to their descendants living today. Fossil evidence shows that scorpions have remained largely unchanged since the Carboniferous period. The first scorpion ancestors likely lived in the seas, and may even have had gills. By the Silurian period, 420 million years ago, some of these creatures had made their way onto land. Early scorpions may have had compound eyes. 

04
of 10

They Can Survive Just About Anything

Large black scorpion on the sand.

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Arthropods have lived on land for over 400 million years. Modern scorpions can live as long as 25 years. That's no accident. Scorpions are champions of survival. A scorpion can live for a full year without food. Because they have book lungs (like horseshoe crabs), they can stay submerged underwater for up to 48 hours and survive. Scorpions live in harsh, dry environments, but they can live on only the moisture they obtain from their food. They have extremely low metabolic rates and require only a tenth of the oxygen of most insects. Scorpions seem virtually indestructible.​

05
of 10

Scorpions Are Arachnids

Harvestman on a white background.

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Scorpions are arthropods that belong to the class Arachnida, the arachnids. The arachnids include spiders, harvestmen, ticks and mites, and all manner of scorpion-like creatures that aren't really scorpions: whipscorpions, pseudoscorpions, and windscorpions. Like their arachnid cousins, scorpions have two body parts (cephalothorax and abdomen) and four pairs of legs. Although scorpions share anatomical similarities with all of the other arachnids, scientists who study their evolution believe they are most closely related to harvestmen (Opiliones). 

06
of 10

Scorpions Dance Before Mating

Two scorpions dancing on a rocky surface.

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Scorpions engage in an elaborate courtship ritual known as the promenade à deux (literally, a walk for two). The dance begins when the male and female make contact. The male takes his partner by her pedipalps ​and gracefully walks her back and forth until he finds a proper location for his spermatophore. Once he deposits his package of sperm, he leads the female over it and positions her genital opening so she can take up the sperm. In the wild, the male usually makes a quick departure once mating is completed. In captivity, the female often devours her mate, having worked up an appetite from all the dancing.

07
of 10

They Glow in the Dark

Scorpion glowing at night.

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For reasons that scientists are still debating, scorpions glow under ultraviolet light. A scorpion's cuticle, or skin, absorbs ultraviolet light and reflects it as visible light. This makes the work of scorpion researchers considerably easier. They can take a black light into scorpion habitat at night and make their subjects light up! Though only about 600 scorpion species were known a few decades ago, scientists have now documented and collected close to 2,000 kinds of scorpions by using UV lights to locate them. When a scorpion molts, its new cuticle is initially soft and doesn't contain the substance that causes fluorescence. So, recently molted scorpions don't glow in the dark. Scorpion fossils can still fluoresce, despite spending hundreds of millions of years embedded in rock.

08
of 10

They Eat Just About Anything

Scorpion eating an insect.

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Scorpions are nocturnal hunters. Most scorpions prey on insects, spiders, and other arthropods, but some feed on grubs and earthworms. Larger scorpions can eat larger prey, of course, and some are known to feed on small rodents and lizards. While many will eat whatever they find that seems appetizing, others specialize in particular prey, such as certain families of beetles or burrowing spiders. A hungry mother scorpion will eat her own babies if resources are scarce.

09
of 10

Scorpions Are Venomous

Close up of scorpion tail.

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Yes, scorpions do produce venom. The scary-looking tail is actually 5 segments of the abdomen, curved upward, with a final segment called a telson at the end. The telson is where the venom is produced. At the tip of the telson is a sharp needle-like structure called the aculeus. That's the venom delivery apparatus. A scorpion can control when it produces venom and how potent the venom is, depending on whether it needs to kill prey or defend itself from predators.

10
of 10

Scorpions Aren't That Dangerous to People

Scorpion being held in human hands on a black background.

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Sure, scorpions can sting, and being stung by a scorpion isn't exactly fun. But the truth is, with few exceptions, scorpions can't do much harm to humans. Of the nearly 2,000 known species of scorpions in the world, only 25 are known to produce venom powerful enough to pack a dangerous punch to an adult. Young children are at greater risk, simply because of their smaller size. In the U.S., there's only one scorpion that is worth worrying about. The Arizona bark scorpion, Centruroides sculpturatus, does produce venom strong enough to kill a small child. Fortunately, antivenom is widely available in medical facilities throughout its range, so deaths are rare.

Sources

Bartlett, Troy. "Order Scorpiones — Scorpions." Iowa State University Department of Entomology, February 16, 2004.

Capinera, John L. "Encyclopedia of Entomology." 2nd edition, Springer, September 17, 2008.

Pearson, Gwen. "Luminous Beauty: The Secret World of Fluorescent Arthropods." Wired, Condé Nast, November 20, 2013.

Polis, Gary A. "The Biology of Scorpions." 0th Edition, Stanford Univ Pr, May 1, 1990.

Putnam, Christopher. "Not So Scary Scorpions." Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist, September 27, 2009.

Stockwell, Dr. Scott A. "Fluorescence in Scorpions." Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, MD.