Classification and Range
Emperor scorpions belong to the class of arthropods Arachnida, in the order Scorpiones. They are further classified into the family Scorpionidae. Four genera of scorpions are in this family: Scorpio, Opistophthalmus, Heterometrus and Pandinus. The genus Pandinus has about 24 species.
While scorpions live worldwide (with the exception of Antarctica), the emperor scorpion lives in the coastal countries of Western Africa, from Senegal to Congo and Gabon. The range map above represents the ranges of all scorpion species.
Emperor scorpions are found in the hot, humid rainforest, nestled in their own burrows, which they dig in the soil. Emperors also dig under rocks, logs or tree roots.
The body is up to 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) long, including tail. Weight varies, up to 1.1 ounces (35 g). Scorpions grow and shed their entire exoskeleton several times before they are full grown. As adults, emperor scorpions are difficult to distinguish from a distance, since males and females act and look similar. Males can be smaller or narrower, and spend a majority of their time looking for females with which to mate.
Emperors are glossy black, but can be dark brown to green. The stinger and claws can also be red-colored. Their overall color gets darker after subsequent molts; this dark coloring also acts as camouflage.
Unknown in the wild; no research done. Five to 8 years old in captivity.
In the wild: arthropods and other scorpions, or any animal they can successfully subdue
At the zoo: crickets
It is not known when emperors reach sexual maturity in the wild; it takes about three years in captivity. Mating can occur year-round, but requires warm temperatures. When the two meet, the male holds her in his grasp. He holds and pushes the female around until he finds a suitable place to mate. When he finds the appropriate spot, he deposits his spermatophore on a solid substrate. Then, he pulls the female into position over the spermatophore, and she accepts it into her genital aperture. He quickly leaves after mating, for a smaller male could be the female's next meal.
For seven to nine months, the young gestate inside her body, until she gives live birth to as many as 35 young. The babies are very tiny, about one half inch (12.7 mm) in length, when they first appear on their mother's back. The mother protects and cares for the white-colored young, as they stay with her for quite some time. She may even share prey items with the young. A communal society of young scorpions can exist for a period of several molts, since the young of this species seem to have a better chance of survival when living in a family group.
Scorpions are sensitive to light, so they are primarily nocturnal. They may rest in a burrow, waiting until prey comes close to ambush it. Or, they may actively hunt for their prey. As they lie in wait, potential prey passes by, creating vibrations the scorpion can sense. They quickly strike with the stinger or grasp the victim. Larger emperor scorpions rarely use their stinger to capture prey, instead they crush it with their claws. Smaller and younger emperor scorpions rely on their stinger to subdue prey. Scorpions must predigest their food before they consume it. Once the prey is subdued, they secrete digestive enzymes onto the prey, which liquefies the food and prepares it for consumption.
Scorpions are ancient arachnids, for they have been roaming the Earth for over 400 million years. These hardy animals live in barren deserts, on windblown beaches and in the mountains, tropical rainforests and deep caves. Their secluded burrow often acts as a shelter from extremes. To conserve energy in times of famine, scorpions can slow down their metabolism. Certain scorpions can survive almost a year without food. Scorpions do not need to drink water. They get all the water they need from their food, and their feces consists of a dry powder-like substance. Even though they are cold-blooded, scorpions can be cooled to below freezing, or endure the blistering heat of the desert.
Location at the Zoo
Emperor scorpions are located at Bug World, although they are not on exhibit. However, you'll go "buggy" while viewing exciting seasonal displays that take you on a journey to different bioclimatic zones around the world. You may come face-to-face with recycling cockroaches, assassin bugs, web-spinning spiders or scuba diving beetles, to name only a few. The only way you'll find out which bugs you'll encounter is by visiting Bug World. Don't miss it!
There are over 1,100 identified species of scorpions, but less than 30 species are considered dangerous to humans.
The sting of most scorpions is only as harmful as a bee sting. Even though large, heavy and terrifying in appearance, the emperor's sting is not lethal.
All species of scorpions are beneficial to their environment, because they prey on pest insects and arachnids. Many more species of scorpions remain undiscovered, but research is difficult. Scorpions tend to live in hostile environments, and are difficult to distinguish between species.
The emperor scorpion is collected in Africa for the pet trade. Consequently, they are listed on the CITES Appendix II list to monitor wild populations. With the proper permits they can still be imported, but removal from their natural habitat results in a smaller chance that they will repopulate their environment. If you want an emperor scorpion as a pet, buy a captive-bred scorpion, as they breed well in captivity. Other threats to the survival of all scorpions are mostly human-caused, due to fear or misunderstanding, deforestation, habitat destruction, desertification, pollution and farming.
How You Can Help!
The effort to save animals and their habitat requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. To conserve habitat for beetles and other insects, reduce your use of pesticides and herbicides, and work to preserve vegetation in your neighborhood and in tropical regions.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can support conservation efforts at the zoo. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Polis, Gary A., ed. 1990. The Biology of Scorpions. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA. 587 pp.
Myers, Walter D. 1988. Scorpions. Harper and Row, New York, NY. 244 pp.
Levi, H.W. and L.R. Levi. 1968. Spiders and their Kin. Golden Press, Inc., New York, NY. 160 pp.
Burton, Maurice. 1984. Insects and their Relatives. Facts-On-File, Inc., New York, NY. 64 pp.