Fact Sheet

Rainforest Scorpion. Image: QM.

Scorpions inspire fear and loathing because they can sting and some overseas species are deadly. However, while some Australian scorpions can inflict painful stings, there are no recorded deaths or severe reactions in Australia. To look at a scorpion is to stare at an extremely old group of animals whose basic body plan has remained unchanged for 425 million years. Few other animals offer such a glimpse of early life on earth. Modern scorpions are certainly not the same animals that lived back in the Silurian period. For example, some of the oldest scorpions were sea-living animals whereas all modern scorpions live on dry land. Scorpions have eight walking legs, a pair of grasping pedipalps (lobster-like claws), and a pair of chelicerae (jaw-like mouthparts). They are placed in the large Class of arachnids which includes spiders, mites, pseudoscorpions and others. Scorpions breathe with specialised pouches called booklungs which spiders also have. Scorpions and pseudoscorpions are superficially similar and both have large front lobster-like claws but pseudoscorpions are usually less than 4 mm (rarely up to 1 cm) in length, with their body rounded at the back, never ending in a tail-like process.

have been caught from the wild unexpectedly reproduce many months later. Scorpions are excellent mothers. Females brood their young for 2-18 months. The helpless young are born alive (never in a shelled egg), and the mother carries them on her back.

Large Brown Scorpion Liocheles waigiensis
Family Liochelidae Large Brown scorpions occur in forested areas of coastal Queensland and are sometimes in gardens. The body is a uniform dark brown and up to 7 cm long to the end of the short, slender ‘tail’. The pedipalps are heavy and strongly-armoured. Brown Scorpions live between rocks, in rotting logs under bark, or in shallow burrows. They are very good climbers and can ascend a long way up tree trunks. Only mild effects have been recorded from their sting. Currently three other species of Liocheles are known in north Queensland including one tropical Pacific species (Liocheles australasiae) whose males are rare or absent and females can reproduce as virgins.

Scorpions eat mostly insects but they capture many small animals that they can overpower, including other scorpions. They crush prey with their claws and deliver a sting with their tail but the latter is not always needed. Scorpions have a narrow gullet and must liquefy their food before sucking it up. Hence they tear at their prey with their chelicerae and ooze salivary juices over it before taking in their fluid meal. Afterwards just the dry husks of prey remain. Scorpions have an exceptionally low metabolism which means they can remain inactive for long periods of time, feeding infrequently. This ability is one reason for the success of desert scorpions.

Liocheles waigenensis. Image: QM.

Scorpion reproduction
It is usually male scorpions that search for females and they seem to locate females by smell. A male will approach a female, grasp her pedipalps with his own, and lead her on a promenade while feeling and smelling the ground with special comb-like structures, called pectines, behind the last pair of legs. Their promenading continues until the male senses a patch of ground that he considers suitable for sperm transfer. He then deposits a stalked sperm packet and then leads the female over to receive it. Females can store sperm for long periods and sometimes scorpions that

Robust Scorpions Urodacus spp.
Family Scorpionidae The largest scorpions in Australia are Urodacus spp, which grow to 5-12 cm in length. Most species live in a spiralling burrow that may descend up to 1 metre giving protection from the dry environments in which they live. The opening to the burrow has a characteristic crescent shape reflecting the cross sectional shape of the scorpion; flattened at the base and gently curved at the top. The legs are used to do the heavy work of excavating while the pedipalps and tail are used to sweep away the soil. At dusk they ascend from the bottom chamber for a regular routine of cleaning out

© The State of Queensland, (Queensland Museum) 2011

their entrance and then sitting at the mouth of their burrow to ambush passing prey. Despite their large size Urodacus spp are not known to be dangerous. However, there are anecdotal reports of severe local pain resulting from stings.

are used to fairly moist conditions. Water can be provided in a small dish. Include a piece of sponge for smaller scorpions to guard against drowning accidents. Scorpions love the dark and quiet, and are sensitive to vibrations. Loose bark is required to give them the privacy and shelter they prefer. Although rocks can provide excellent shelter they may shift and crush the scorpion when their container is moved. If it is desired to view burrowing Urodacus, it will be necessary to provide an artificial burrow made of plaster. Note that Urodacus are quite inactive and like to stay in their burrows so they are not ideal pets. Scorpions need live prey and they will accept many kinds of insects if they are a suitable size and not too well-armoured (e.g. some beetles). A useful guide to size is that the length of the prey offered should not be more than the scorpion’s pedipalps. Scorpions do not need a large container and if a container is too large the scorpion may have difficulty in encountering prey. Mould-loving mites commonly infest scorpion enclosures. Good hygiene is important in preventing both mould and mites. These mites are not parasitic although they may distress the scorpion. This problem is best controlled by removing uneaten prey items and making sure humidity is not too high. Also note that these mites are often found with mealworms. Sterilising substrate and items that are to be placed in the enclosure may reduce the chances of disease and mite problems. In a humid enclosure with excess organic matter, mite numbers will increase explosively and will crawl over the scorpion and other surfaces. Most scorpions are ‘protected wildlife’ in the Northern Territory and without a permit there are heavy penalties for interfering with them.

Urodacus armatus. Image: QM.

‘Small Brown Mottled’ scorpions
Cercophonius, Hemilychas, Isometroides, Isometrus, Lychas This heterogeneous group of small scorpions contains specimens that are less than 5 cm long. This group is currently placed in the family Buthidae or in the Bothiuridae (Cercophonius). Rather than excavate proper burrows they almost always live under stones or bark and are active foragers. They have relatively slender pedipalps.

Marbled scorpion Lychas variatus
Family Buthidae This is a small, slender mottled scorpion that is widespread throughout coastal Queensland and found under bark, rocks and in leaf litter. Although no Australian scorpions are known to be dangerously venomous, a Lychas species (Lychas marmoreus) which commonly enters houses in New South Wales, is responsible for the majority of severely painful stings recorded in Australia.

Author: Matthew Shaw Queensland Museum PO Box 3300, SOUTH BRISBANE QLD 4101 Phone: (07) 3840 7555

Lychas variatus. Image: QM.

Isometrus maculatus
Family Buthidae This species is introduced and is distributed throughout the tropics worldwide. It is found north of Townsville including on offshore islands.

Isometrus melanodactylus
This species is widespread, throughout coastal, central and northern Queensland and extends somewhat westward where rainfall is above 550 mm.

Scorpion as Pets
Scorpions are best kept singly The easiest way to kill an invertebrate is to not provide adequate moisture. Even Desert Scorpions mostly survive dryness by living in burrows. The commonly-kept Liocheles

© The State of Queensland, (Queensland Museum) 2011

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