Emperor Scorpion

Pandinus imperator

Order: Scorpiones Family: Scorpionidae

Overview

This species is commonly found in education collections. Because of their impressive size, Emperor scorpions are known for their wow factor. They do not have potent venom which also makes them a possibility for handling, although their pincers are powerful. Like tarantulas, most people consider scorpions scary or disgusting. This makes them a great ambassador for all invertebrates because of the opportunity to encourage people to think critically and examine why such animals exist in the first place! 

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

West African countries including Togo, Ghana, Benin, Chad, Guinea, Liberia, and the Congo region. 

Often found in tropical forests and savannas. They reside in burrows and prefer to live under leaf litter, forest debris, stream banks, and in the mounds of termites.

Longevity

Usually up to 10 years in human care. Unknown in the wild. 

Ecosystem Role

Predators to multiple invertebrate species, including termites, diplopods, and large beetles.  

Food source for many birds, small mammals including bats & genets, lizards, and larger arthropods including spiders and centipedes.

Scorpions are arachnids, related to spider, mites, and ticks. They have two body parts and eight legs. Their exoskeleton is a dark blue or black, but occasionally you will see a dark brown or green scorpion. Their pincers have a granular texture and a reddish coloring. They are actually pedipalps (extensions of the mouth) and not true legs. There are sensory hairs around the pincers, tail, and telson.

The cephalothorax is made up of four sections, each with one pair of legs. Behind the fourth pair of legs are the pectines, which is noticeably longer on the males than on the females. (Other sexual differences: males have broader tails and larger pincers than females.) The pectines are used to detect ground and air vibrations.

The tail, also known as the metasoma, is made up of six segments. It has a telson at the end, which is the large ball with a sharp curve used to sting. The telson contains the venom gland. The tail isn’t really a true tail, but is an extension of the abdomen.

Emperor scorpions are the largest of the existing scorprions. Adults can reach up to 8 inches long.

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information

  • In the wild, emperor scorpions reach sexual maturity at around the age of four, but they can mature quicker in captivity.
  • Mating involves elaborate rituals that involve vibrations, stings, and cheliceral “kisses”. It is unknown whether the male envenomates the female or not during this time. During courtship, scorpions engage in an elaborate dance where the male grabs the female’s pincers and moves around, attempting to find a suitable location to deposit his sperm sack. Once the sperm is deposited, the male will maneuver the female over the spot, where she will receive the sperm. Mating can occur year-round, but it requires warm temperatures. 
  • Directly after copulation the male should be removed. Males will consume young.  
  • Emperor scorpions have a gestation period of around 9 months. They exhibit aplacental viviparity (ovoviviparity) and give birth to 10 to 12 young at a time. The young are white in color at first, but become darker after each molt. 
  • Young spend the first few weeks of life on their mother’s back until the second instar. They remain with the mother through several molts. Mothers will sometimes continue to feed their young, even after they have developed enough to live on their own. Females have been known to tolerate the presence of young for up to 18 months, throughout which the young will aggregate near the mother, and she will provide protection. 
  • Emperor scorpions are nocturnal.

Habitat

  • Plenty of cover should be provided to mimic the natural habitat of the forest floor. 
  • A 10 gallon or more terrarium should be sufficient depending on the number of individuals.
  • Memphis Zoo: 32gal vision cage filled with 2+ inches of 6:1 coco coir to vermiculite; furnished with sanitized leaves, cork bark, and other enrichment items; zilla mini dome UVB light & small heat pad on side of enclosure.

Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles

  • Temperature: 65-80F 
  • Humidity: 77-88% 
  • Light: UVB recommended for all species to regulate day/night cycles.

Substrate

Because of their fossorial nature and high humidity needs, a mixture of coco coir and vermiculite is ideal. Fully sanitized orchid bark or cypress mulch could also be used in the mix. Depth should be 2+ inches to allow for proper burrowing.

Diet Requirements

Diet in the Wild

  • Often found eating termites, diplopods, and large beetles. Occasionally may catch a small vertebrate as well.  
  • Emperor scorpions are venomous, but they rarely sting and are handleable, which is why they are common both in zoos and as pets. Even when hunting, they rarely sting smaller prey, preferring to grasp it in their powerful claws and tear it apart.
  • Emperor scorpions are nocturnal and use their sensory hairs to detect prey

Diet Under Human Care

  • Arachnids are often obese in human care, so food intake and body condition should be monitored. 
  • Dubia cockroaches have the highest calcium to protein ratio and are preferred for animals old enough to take down a chitinous prey item. Crickets are an alternative for younger animals or in lieu of a cockroach colony. 
  • Superworms or mealworms (size dependent) may be offered on occasion, as well as F/T pinky mice.

Veterinary Concerns

Scorpions can present with a number of conditions that may or may not need treatment, including but not limited to: bacterial infection, fungal infection, parasites, intoxication, dehydration, and dysecdysis. Many of these occur due to improper husbandry.

Enrichment & Training

Enrichment

Behavioral Relevant Information

Emperor scorpions are burrowing animals that actively hunt prey using chemoreceptive setae on their pincers and legs.

Environmental Enrichment

  • Provide deep or varying levels of substrate and substrates of different types.
  • Provide a variety of hides of different sizes and textures.

Behavioral Enrichment

  • Provide a variety of novel textures to explore.
  • Provide a variety of mild scents to explore.

Schedule

Too much change in the environment can be stressful for arachnids. Behavioral enrichment can be provided daily while environmental enrichment should be used based on the behavior of the individual.

Other Enrichment Resources

http://www.animalenrichment.org/spider

Training

Behaviors Trained

Target training is possible with the right target.

Reinforcers Used & Schedule of Reinforcement

Reinforcement could be food or texture of target. Each behavior should be reinforced in a 1:1 ratio.

Other

Social Housing/Colony Management

  • Directly after copulation the male should be removed. Males may consume young.  
  • Emperor scorpions have a gestation period of around 9 months. They are exhibit ovoviviparous and give birth to 10 to 12 young at a time.  
  • Young spend the first few weeks of life on their mother’s back until the second instar. Females have been known to tolerate the presence of young for up to 18 months, throughout which the young will aggregate near the mother, and she will provide protection. 
  • Females may be housed with young for a while. In large enough spaces, females may be able to cohabitate.

Colony or Breeding Management

  • Species can housed socially in same-sex pairs for breeding purposes. 
  • When provided enough space and resources, females can be housed together.

Individual Identification

The most accurate way to sex Emperor Scorpions is to compare the pectines. Males will have larger, more prominent pectines than females. Females are also often larger overall, though this is not a foolproof way to accurately sex.

Programmatic Information

Messaging Themes

  • All animals have an important role in their home. 
  • Scorpions and other arachnids provide free pest control.  
  • Not all animals should be pets OR Be a responsible pet owner for all animals. 
  • Recycle your cell phone to save species! 
  • Saving a habitat means saving all the animals that call that place their home.

Threats and Conservation Status

  • Native to the same range as lowland gorillas 
  • Not listed by IUCN 
  • Listed under CITES Appendix II, which means they are not currently at a threat for extinction but could easily become so if their collection is not regulated. 
  • As a large but docile species, Emperor Scorpions are the most popular pet scorpion and their popularity is continuing to rise in North America. Though they breed regularly in captivity, they are commonly taken from the wild in the thousands. Due to their lengthy gestation and small brood, this leaves them vulnerable to low populations.

Interesting Natural History Information

  • Commonly eat termites 
  • Give live birth 
  • Can be found living in termite mounds in a communal chamber 
  • Scorpions have very poor eyesight. Both prey and mates are found by vibrations picked up by the hair-like setae on the pincers, and possibly by scent.
  • Like all scorpions, emperor scorpions fluoresce a greenish-blue under black (UV) lights.
  • A baby scorpion is called a “scorpling.”

Did you know…

  • Like other scorpions, emperor scorpions give off a fluorescent bluish green appearance under ultraviolet light. We don’t know exactly why! One theory is that this could draw insects, which can see UV light and are often attracted to flowers with colors in the UV range. 
  • They might look threatening, but are actually known to be timid, and are therefore popular in the pet trade. Will usually run away instead of fighting if threatened. 
  • Their venom contains a molecule called scorpine, which has been shown to have anti-malarial and anti-bacterial qualities.

Handling & Presentation Tips

  • Species may be presented in travel enclosure on a table. 
  • This species is handled using leather gloves over a table. The gloves protect the presenter and the table protects the scorpion from a fall. May also be on a prop (piece of cork bark, wood piece, etc.) on a table. 
  • Full-time, part-time, & seasonal staff at level 1 or above of their handling training are allowed to present scorpions in their travel enclosure. Permanent full-time education staff at level 3 or above of their handling training are allowed to present scorpions on hand. 

Use Guidelines

  • This species is not used when in premoult or for 48 hours after a moult. 
  • They cannot be presented in direct sunlight and must be in the shade.

Public Contact & Interaction Guidelines

  • Public is not allowed physical contact with this species. They can watch training sessions.  
  • Memphis Zoo: Because ours must travel to be in public view, we do not feed them in public. It would be a great way to engage guests and start conversations if the habitat is in public view. For select nighttime programs, we do use a blacklight to show guests the fluorescence of scorpions.

Transportation Tips

  • Memphis Zoo: use a critter carrier filled about an inch high with their substrate plus a “soft” hide (we consider leaves soft because they would not squish the animal).  
  • In order to maintain appropriate climate in inclement or unfavorable weather, critter carriers can be placed in coolers and padded with newspaper for transport. This is especially useful off-grounds and for keeping the mystery during transport.

Crating Techniques

  • Memphis Zoo: currently, we place our gloved hand palm-up in enclosure and slowly slide it underneath the scorpion. We are attempting to use our target behavior to crate them more voluntarily. 
  • Hides with any weight to them can shift during transport and mortally wound invertebrates. It is recommended to provide a hide like a leaf and offer a more substantial hide once the animal’s enclosure is set up for program.

Temperature Guidelines

We do not use for outdoor program if the temperature is under 60F or over 95F.

Acquisition Information

Invertebrate Acquisitions

TITAG Steering Committee Erin Sullivan Erin.Sullivan@zoo.org 

Memphis Zoo

Virginia Zoo

Phoenix Zoo

SeaWorld San Antonio

California Science Center

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Resources

Contributors & Citations

Photo Credits

Habitats- Bella Corley, Memphis Zoo