Breed: Australian Scorpions
Temperament: varies according to species
Cost: $40-$70 (around $140+ for full set-up)
Lifespan: 2+ years
Recommended for: anyone 12+
In Australia there are thought to be more than 100 species of scorpion and although they can be found in a wide variety of habitats all over the country, very little is known about these native creepy crawlies. One thing that is well known is how popular pet scorpions have become. Owners say these invertebrates are fascinating to watch and are low maintenance and low cost to keep. Over the past five years scorpions have been increasingly available in pet shops specialising in unusual pets and they are now easily obtainable in both New South Wales and Queensland. However, accurate information on how best to handle and care for scorpions is not as easy to come by.
Scorpions, like spiders, are arachnids with four pairs of true legs. They have pincer like pedipelps (claws) and have an elongated abdomen with a telson (sting) on the end. Scorpions are found all over Australia in habitats as diverse as deserts, salt lakes and rainforest trees. All scorpions are predacious but are not aggressive to humans unless provoked. In Australia scorpions are almost entirely nocturnal.
They are mainly distributed from pet shops and everything you need from enclosures to food can be easily obtained from the shop also. Care sheets are available but its best to do some book or internet research to give the scorpion the best chance of survival. Only native species can be kept as pets, due to the strict and expensive import laws. No foreign species are kept live in Australia outside of scientific circles. Scorpions cannot be imported or exported from Western Australia. Licensed operators capture scorpions from national parks in the wild and sell them to pet shops/hobbyists. It is advisable to buy from pet shops, but due to lack of information identification can still be an issue. You may get something other than what you are told you are buying. Almost all scorpions are bought fully grown.
Scorpions eat only live food like crickets, roaches and even baby mice. This is easily and cheaply obtained from pet stores. They are fed depending on the size once or twice a fortnight, more when they are a bit more active. They can be hand fed, but if placed in the right conditions they will predate live food dropped into the enclosure. Scorpions eat by sucking out the insides of the insect and the body pressure of the live insect helps them to do so. The scorpion will only sting if the food cannot be handled with the pincers. It is recommended that owners feed gut loaded insects to scorpions. These are live insects with a high protein diet, very nutritious. Scorpions will drink from a cotton wool ball soaked in water.
Care and maintenance
Scorpions do not need a lot of space and a small glass terrarium is ideal. They need a heat source and a humid environment which can be easily met with a bulb or heat pad and a daily spray of water or a drip pipe. Scorpions do not need a great deal of habitat in the enclosure and can be happy and healthy in a small plastic container with a few rocks and leaves. They should be kept in separate well secured enclosures as they are great escape artists.
Health problems and longevity
The major problem with scorpions is mites. Live food must be checked to ensure there are no infestations before the food goes into the enclosure. They are known to live as long as nine years, but in captivity most only last for two to three. No one really knows how long they can live.
Depending on the species you can see a wide range of behaviour from scorpions including high surface activity, burrowing, eating, burrow hibernation and playing dead (surface hibernation). They are also known to be audible making sounds as they explore and tap on glass.
There has been no confirmed deaths due to scorpion stings, although some reports have been made. It is unknown if the sting of any Australian species can cause death or serious illness. If stung the sting area may blister and a strong ache, similar to a wasp sting, is experienced lasting for a few hours. This is followed by pins and needles like sensation in the area that lasts for a few days. There is the potential that an allergic reaction may cause death or severe illness, especially in young children or the elderly.
Due to the afore mentioned safety warning, pet shops recommend anyone 12+ is suitable to own a scorpion. Experts do not strongly disagrees with this, but all recommend only responsible people handle scorpions and if children are involved they should be well supervised in the beginning months.
Erich Volschenk has spend the last 6 years studying Australian scorpions. He has discovered that, unlike overseas, they are not well described and many species have been grouped as one. Identifying individual species is his aim and he is really leading the way in Australia. Erich says these creatures are really interesting as pets. But if you are looking for something macho you are not going to find it! Most scorpions are not aggressive and will run and hide if they can. They look scary but are not.
He recommends that people keep Liocheles waigiensis because they are very active and do not to burrow. Erich is strongly against people keeping the Urodacus species, especially the large desert ones. They will not live long unless provided with a replica environment and that is very hard to do. If you do splurge on a great enclosure they will spend 99 percent of their time in the burrow – so you don’t get see them anyway. Erich also recommends purchasing scorpions from a pet shop where you will receive good information about origin and about care.
Graham Nicholson, UTS, is currently investigating toxins in the venom of scorpions as a potential pesticide. Scorpions have been eaten by humans for medicinal purposes and as a delicacy. The burrow of the Urodacus yashenkoi spirals down into the sand up to two metres down. When a female gives birth the eggs and then the hatched young are carried on her back. All scorpions fluoresce under UV light because of a chemical found on their exoskeleton. There is no evidence to suggest why they have evolved with this ability. In fact, research shows they have very poor visibility and rely on vibrations and wind to feel their way around. Even cave dwelling species that are never exposed to UV light fluoresce. The researchers we spoke with support this information.
We filmed our story with enthusiast Peter Wright, who has been keeping scorpions for 1 year and has around 10 scorpions. For more information contact the Australian Scorpion Club at their website: www.clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/australianscorpionclub
Otherwise start with your local pet store.