Bulletin 18 - November 1982: Scorpions


by Mike Southey

The scorpion is in the same class as spiders, mites and ticks, but is easily recognized by two distinct features:

  1. the long segmented tail with a terminal sting; and
  2. the chelae or pincers at the front.

There are in the order of six families, the most important being Buthudae which has 600 species. This family also includes species of Occitanus (common in Europe), Andrictinus australis (North Africa), and Tityus (near tropics). The family Buthidae is common in the UAE.

Scorpions found in the Emirates vary in length from 2 to 11cms and include both black and yellow varieties. The yellow scorpion often appears to be a green fluorescent color, caused by a substance in the exoskeleton which creates a glowing effect. The black variety varies in color from dark brown through to black. The Buthidae tend not to burrow into the ground but live under stones or rubbish and are easily found, especially in the cooler months when they are sluggish; they have been known to withstand freezing conditions for several weeks. The abdomen is clearly divided into seven segments followed by five tail segments, the final one bearing a venomous sting. The carapace, which is unsegmented, has two median and two to five pairs of lateral eyes. The second abdominal segment has a pair of combs or pectines but the reason for their existence is not understood.

When looking for scorpions, it is advisable to lift stones with a stick. It will be noted immediately that if one is turned up it will make what appears to be an attack on the person who disturbed it, but in fall all it is trying to do is hide from bright light and the shadow and proximity of shoes are usually the nearest haven.

A scorpion will eat any insect as long as its prey is alive, and especially if it puts up a fight. Something as docile as a caterpillar will be ignored, but a cockroach is speedily dealt with, leaving only the legs and wing cases. From such nourishing victims, a desert scorpion obtains all the liquid refreshment it needs. Scorpions do have great water retaining powers; the ones I have kept have kept have gone for weeks without any sustenance, liquid or otherwise.

It is commonly assumed that the black scorpion is the more poisonous, but in the UAE at least, the yellow variety is the one to guard against as its sting is neuro-toxic and medical treatment is more frequently required. The treatment for the sting of the black variety is to keep the patient calm, clean the infected area with surgical spirit (often painful as the sting area tends to be very tender) and take to a doctor reasonably quickly. A general anaesthetic may then be administered just beneath the skin, and the patient given aspirin or an equivalent. Usually this is all the treatment that is required.

The more toxic poison of the yellow scorpion resembles that of a snake, and at its worst, results in symptoms similar to that of strychnine poisoning, viz.:

  • tightness of the throat (patient tries to clear throat);
  • tightness of the tongue (patient has difficulty in speaking clearly);
  • patient becomes restless;
  • sneezing spasms followed with a flow from nose and mouth (leading to copious froth);
  • heart beat increases; and
  • at worst, convulsions follow, and the victim turns blue prior to death.

This sequence of symptoms can last from 45 minutes to half a day, but it should be stressed that it is the young and the old who are most affected, and it is impossible to be more specific on the effects in advance on individual cases. Treatment is as black scorpion stings but with a much closer watch on the patient. Anti-serums do exist but a recent article in the 'Khaleej Times' referring to a case in Kuwait suggests the side effects can be dangerous.

In future, when I go scorpion hunting, I shall follow the advice of a Syrian Bedouin as reported in the same newspaper: "One friend was viciously stung by a big scorpion. His glands swelled, the blood circulation was upset, all pharmaceuticals proved worthless. So we applied a hideously smelling dressing of garlic and salt, and within 10 minutes, all those frightening symptoms of poisoning, including the pain, had almost completely vanished."


If you happen to be stung or with someone who is stung, the main thing to do is keep calm and play it by ear since individuals react differently. If victim normally reacts badly to poisoning or stings, get him/her to a doctor as quickly as possible. And most important of all, when planning a field trip, don't forget to take you garlic and salt with you.


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