Often thought of as a desert creature, scorpions actually populate a wide range of habitats, including tropical, rain, and temperate forests, deep caves, mountain tops, savannas, and, yes, deserts.. The nearly 2000 known species of scorpions are spread over every continent with the exception of Antarctica. For these hardy arthropods, extremes in temperatures and climate are no barrier to success since they can be submerged in water for up to two days or even become frozen overnight and show no lingering ill effects. Scorpions hold a strong place in human mythology and folklore and the well-known children’s fable of the frog and the scorpion is told worldwide. The importance of scorpion venom in medicine is still being studied and there are potential uses in the treatment of arthritis as well as the prevention of malaria.
Average lifespans range widely from 2-10 years and some species can live for up to thirty. While they have poor eyesight, scorpions hunt astonishingly well using vibrations in the ground and even air. The average size is only 2½ inches, but the largest species can grow to over 8 inches in length. Scorpions naturally fluoresce under black light and the reason for the phenomenon is still being studied, although it could be linked to how they perceive light. A few dozen species have venom strong enough to harm humans, but the threat is generally minimal.
Like their lifespans and environments, the gestation periods for scorpions vary widely between species and can range from 2-18 months. Females care for their young at least through the first molt and the relationship can last much longer in some species. Females can afford to produce fewer eggs since they invest in the early stages of their offspring’s life and the average brood is less than a dozen. Most scorpion species require the eggs to be fertilized, but a very few have developed what is called parthenogenesis, which is asexual reproduction and requires no fertilization. Scorpions molt to grow and they emerge from the old, discarded shell soft and vulnerable until it hardens.
Not very active creatures in general, some species of scorpion can lower their metabolism to the point where they only need to feed once a year. They are shy and secretive and prefer darkness for their activities. The main prey item for scorpions are insects, but the key to their success is their adaptability, both in environments and in their feeding behaviors, so small reptiles and mammals can also be on their menu.
Fossil records containing scorpions have been found back over 400 million years. There is still a great deal of study and debate on the biology of these early scorpions and as to whether they were marine or terrestrial. It is very possible that scorpions were the first terrestrial species.
There are many scorpion species worldwide that are threatened due primarily to habitat loss, most notably the Black-legged Burrowing Scorpion (Opistophthalmus fuscipes) of South Africa.
Scorpions (Predators in the Wild) by Adele D. Richardson
Scorpions of Southern Africa by Jonathan Leeming
Centipedes, Millipedes, Scorpions, and Spiders (Animal Kingdom Classification) by Daniel Gilpin
Scorpions of Medical Importance by Hugh L. Keegan
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