Alabama scorpions may look creepy, but their sting is less harmful than a bee’s
Story & Photos by Kenneth Boone
Scorpions are one of those insects that “creep out” most people. It’s not hard to understand why. Scorpions look sort of like a cross between a spider and a crawfish outfitted in armor-plated S.W.A.T. gear, they pack an arsenal that includes crab-like claws and a wicked stinger on a tail that’s held high like a snake about to strike, and about 25 species of scorpions in the world have venom so toxic that a wet sting can kill a person.
But in the case of Alabama’s scorpions, Winston Churchill had it right when he said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Unless you happen to be allergic to scorpion venom, the species that live here in the Lake Martin area are no more dangerous than a honey bee. Yes, the sting will hurt. But the chances of any life-threatening or long-term effects from a native Alabama scorpion are very low.
Add to that the fact that scorpions – which are only active at night – and people rarely meet, and the Alabama scorpion becomes more of a curiosity than a threat.
And what a curiosity they are.
Consider these points:
Scorpions are known to glow under ultraviolet light. Scientists and collectors take full advantage of this fact, and most scorpion-gathering expeditions occur at night and involve hand-held black lights.
A scorpion couple engages in a complex mating dance that can involve activities scientists describe as a “pincer kiss” and “juddering,” or conspicuous vibrating. Sometimes, males are known to inject their partners with a little venom to calm them down. The mating process can last 25 hours or more.
A mother scorpion carries her babies – which are known as “scorplings” – on her back for protection and to regulate the baby scorp’s moisture levels. Without mom’s tender and continuous care, the babies will not survive. The hitchhiking babies remain on their mother’s back until after their first molt.
Scorpions’ neurotoxic venom is used to both kill and immobilize prey and to defend the scorpion.
Scorpions can only take in liquid food and can live for huge amounts of time without nourishment. To eat, they paint digestive enzymes into their prey and then suck up their fluid dinner like customers at a juice bar. Scorpions have been known to survive for six months or even a year without eating.
Scorpions have been crawling the earth and the sea floor for quite some time. The oldest fossilized scorpions date from 430 million years ago.
Fried scorpion is a traditional Chinese dish.
Scorpions are mentioned time and again in human cultures across the world. Scorpio is one of the 12 signs of the ancient zodiac; they are featured in Egyptian and Islamic art and many modern movies. The German rock band, “Scorpions,” is famous for their 1980’s song, “Rock You Like A Hurricane,” which is recognized as one of the Top 20 hard rock songs of all time.
The female scorpion pictured here with a back full of babies is a Vaejovis carolinianus, which goes by the common names Southern Devil or Southern Unstriped Scorpion. These scorpions are known to be shy and skittish, and this individual was not in the least bit aggressive; instead, she tried to run away repeatedly as these photos were being made. However, some people who keep scorpions as pets have reported that the Southern Devil scorpion can be aggressive toward people, raising their tails in a defensive posture when a hand gets too close.
A sting from a Southern Devil is said to be as painful as a bee or wasp sting, but usually not long lasting. Internet forums dedicated to these scorpions report that most people have relatively few, mild symptoms; however, one person reported tingling and even vision problems hours after being stung.
It is native to the Southeastern U.S. and ranges from Virginia and the Carolinas to Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. The scorpion is nocturnal and is often found in mixed hardwood and pine forests and in rocky areas around ponds and lakes. They are often found in groups under the loose bark of a fallen pine tree, and also under rocks and logs. These scorpions are sometimes found in houses in dark, moist places.
Southern Devil scorpions grow to about 2 inches long and can live 5 to 7 years, and a surprising number of people keep them as pets.
There are more than 40 species of scorpions found in the United States, but only two are considered fatal to humans and both are found only in Arizona.
So if you find a scorpion around Lake Martin, treat it with the respect you’d give a bee or wasp, but know that there’s really nothing to fear from these fascinating, glow-in-the-dark insects.