There are over 2,000 known species of scorpions worldwide living in various habitats, such as deserts, caves, and even around residential homes. Scorpions are well known for their scary-looking pinchers and their long tails with stingers at the end that can pack a punch. Instinctively most people would opt to stay away, but are scorpions dangerous?
Are Scorpions Dangerous?
In this article we will look at the question of “are scorpions dangerous” from a few angles by answering some frequently asked questions about their stings and venom.
Scorpions get a bad reputation for being deadly, especially since they can all produce venom. However, most scorpion venom is only harmful to their prey and not dangerous to humans. In fact, a lot of people keep scorpions as pets. Out of all scorpion species, only around 25 have venom strong enough to be considered dangerous for humans. Out of these 25, only one species lives in the United States: the Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus).
Generally, scorpions with potent venom are more dangerous for children and elderly adults with weaker immune systems. It can also be painful to get pinched by their powerful pincers, but it’s not life-threatening. For example, a pinch from the impressive looking emperor scorpion (Pandinus imperator) won’t hurt worse than a deep paper cut.
Can a scorpion kill a human?
It is extremely unlikely to die from the sting of a scorpion. Out of the 2,000 plus species of scorpions we know about, only about 30 are capable of producing a toxic enough venom to kill a human. The most at-risk population of serious complications from scorpion venom would be children and the elderly.
The venom of a scorpion is a mixture of compounds that will affect your nervous system. In most cases, if a death occurs from a scorpion sting it is from not being able to seek medical treatment or to receive treatment soon enough. In countries with access to good medical care, death from scorpion venom is highly unlikely.
What do you do if you get stung by a scorpion?
Unless you have an allergic reaction, first aid steps after getting stung by a scorpion are simple. Wash the sting site with water and soap, take over-the-counter pain relievers, and apply a cool compress, but avoid using ice. Also, don’t eat or drink anything if you have difficulty swallowing. If symptoms don’t go away or are severe, seek medical attention.
Common symptoms you can expect of a scorpion sting are localized to the sting site. At the site of the sting these symptoms are common:
- pain, which can be quite sharp
- numbness and tingling
- feeling of warmth
Full body symptoms tend to only occur in cases of very toxic venom or in children who are stung and can include:
- Muscle twitching
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fast heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Restlessness or excitability
- Uncontrolled head, neck and eye movements
Do scorpions sting for no reason?
The short answer is no. Typically scorpions use their pincers and stingers when they are hunting prey and prefer not to mess with humans. They will grab the animal by the pincer and use their stinger to subdue the animal. When it comes to stinging humans, scorpions will do so if they feel threatened. For example if they feel backed into a corner or that they are in imminent danger of being injured by a human.
Scorpions like the dark sheltered “cave” provided by shoes and gloves. In areas where scorpions are common, this is often how people are stung. Some tips for avoiding scorpion stings include:
- Shake out your shoes, gloves and clothes before putting them on
- Wear shoes outdoors, especially near water sources
- Don’t try to play with wild scorpions that might become threatened
- Do not approach scorpions, especially if they cannot turn around and run away from you in the other direction (i.e. they have limited means of escape)
- Don’t reach into rock crevices with bare hands
What attracts scorpions to your house?
Scorpions are mostly attracted to homes for food and shelter. These animals like areas with moisture that are also dark, since they are nocturnal and prefer shade from sunlight.
Avoid getting stung by a scorpion that has wandered into your home by checking areas such as inside your shoes, your basement, and crevices in the walls that are potential hiding places. Also:
- Remove piles of junk and debris
- Seal up any cracks or open spaces
- Remove potential food sources, such as spiders, beetles, flies, and centipedes
- Clean any dark or damp areas in your home regularly
How painful is a scorpion sting?
Scorpion stings are typically more painful than they are dangerous. Most species with less potent venom have stings comparable to a bee or hornet sting, however, some species can send shooting sensations of pain up your limbs.
Scientists studying why the sting of a scorpion is so painful found it is linked to the acidity in their venom. Scorpion stings are a mixture of different compounds, and one of the compounds (BmP01) can magnify the pain signals to your brain due to this acidity.
Can dead scorpions still sting?
Yes, you can still get stung by a scorpion that is dead, so it is best to avoid them. In some situations, the muscles in the scorpion that administers the sting can still fire up even after they are dead. So, if you are trying to pick up a dead scorpion, do so carefully with other tools instead of your fingers.
What are the most dangerous scorpion species?
Sometimes called the sculptured scorpion, the Arizona bark scorpion is the most dangerous species in the U.S. While rarely fatal, the venom of these scorpions can last up to 72 hours with intense symptoms and excruciating pain.
Some other scorpions to watch out for from various regions around the world are:
- Yellow fat-tailed scorpions (Androctonus australis)
- Brazilian yellow scorpions (Tityus serrulatus)
- Death stalker scorpions (Leiurus quinquestriatus)
- Spitting thicktail black scorpions or South African fattail scorpions (Parabuthus transvaalicus)
- Arabian fat-tailed scorpions (Androctonus crassicauda)
While all scorpions produce venom and can sting you, most of the species worldwide don’t have venom that is harmful to humans. There is also antivenin that makes death by scorpions very rare. Make sure to avoid situations where you can cause a scorpion to feel threatened and follow the first-aid steps if you do get stung. It’s important to be cautious when handling scorpions, however, they are not as dangerous as their reputation sometimes makes them out to be.