Are scorpions venomous or poisonous?
Scorpions are venomous and not poisonous. It’s because they bite with their stinger to insert their deadly toxin chemicals inside the body of their prey.
People often confuse these two terms venomous and poisonous together. Yes, these two terms look pretty much the same thing but are technically different.
The majority of the people will say wrongly, “Scorpions are poisonous.” On the other hand, those that have understood these two terms properly will correctly say, “Scorpions are venomous.”
Biologically it is well-defined that the term venomous is only applied to those organisms that bite or simply sting, to inject their harmful toxins inside the body of another organism.
Whereas the term poisonous is applied only to those organisms that can secrete harmful toxins from their body surface and so can unload these toxins when these poisonous organisms are ingested.
Let it be a venomous or a poisonous animal, both will secrete and use toxins as their chemical weaponry to protect themselves, or kill, destroy, feed, and digest their prey.
The vast majority of the scorpion stings (pierces) their prey with their venomous stinger that is present at the end of their flexible tail. This makes them enter their venom or toxin into the body of their prey.
That’s why it can be concluded that scorpions are venomous and not poisonous.
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How venomous are Scorpions?
Scorpions belong to Class Arachnid of the order Scorpionida. They are predatory venomous insects that are nocturnal in nature.
They have eight legs and are easily recognized by the pair of grasping pedipalps (claws) and the narrow segmented tail ending with a venomous stinger.
The vast majority of the scorpion species do not have deadly venom and so they do not cause a fatal threat to humans after they have stung but can give very painful stings and can even make you sick.
Only about 25 out of the 2,000 known species of Scorpion have fatal venom that is capable of killing a healthy adult human. For example, Tityus serrulatus, Buthotus tamulus, Leiurus quinquestriatus, etc.
Each species has its own unique nature of venom with different levels of toxicities. This makes some of the species lethal and some non-lethal at all.
Even the newborn scorpions have so much venom that can be fatal to their prey. So, don’t make the fault of underestimating these small-sized invertebrates.
The deadly scorpion’s venom can cause a massive release of neurotransmitters causing excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting, hypersalivation, restlessness, and in more severe cases, arrhythmia, unconsciousness, and heart failure, thus leading to death.
The toxic effects of the venom can include the extreme increase of high body temperatures, respiratory paralysis, very low or very high blood pressure, and a rapid heartbeat (tachycardia).
Their venom also contains digestive enzymes that start the breakdown of the inner muscles of their prey once stung by the scorpion. The enzymes and toxins in scorpion’s venom are used not only to paralyze its prey and but also to digest it as food making feeding for them a lot easier.
Non-venomous scorpion stings are much more dangerous for infants and small children even if they contain a little dosage of venom.
Their sting can be sometimes deadly to adults, but children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people which are mostly at risk.
What kind of venom do Scorpions have?
Scorpions do have a neurotoxic type of venom. Neurotoxic venom is a chemical toxin that affects the nervous system, ultimately killing or paralyzing their prey.
Scorpion utilizes a lot of energy to produce their venom and this is the only way to kill their prey. It is used for subduing prey, in self-defense, and in some species also used during mating.
Their neurotoxic venom is comprised of a group of proteins consisting of 60-70 crossed linked amino acids that can damage the brain and its neuronal connections or peripheral nervous system after entering the blood circulation once stung by the scorpion.
Although not all of the species are fatal but a few (about 25 species) are the most fatal and deadliest ones that have the ability to even kill a healthy human within 1 hour of bite if left untreated.
The venom or sting of non-lethal ones can make you extremely sick for a few days or so with acute pain in the region of the bite. Their non-lethal venom can be sometimes lethal to young children, the elderly, and those who are allergic to the venom.
Whereas the deadliest scorpions can have the neurotoxic venom with a high dosage of lethal venom concentration, that can adversely affect function in both developing and mature nervous tissue.
Their one drop of neurotoxic venom is just enough to cause a usual heart or respiratory failure occurring within some hours after the sting. But, a very few deaths from scorpion stings have been reported as their are proper anti-venoms available.
Another possible complication of scorpion stings, though rare, is a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. During anaphylaxis, signs and symptoms may include a rapid and weak pulse; a skin rash; and nausea and vomiting.
How does the scorpoin venom work?
Scorpions have their scary-looking tail which is their main physical weapon with a deadly stinger.
Their tail is actually of 5 segments of their abdomen portion that remains curved upward, with a final segment called a telson at the end.
The telson region is where the venom is produced. At the tip of the telson, there are two venom glands connected with a sharp needle-like structure called the aculeus or stinger.
This pointed stinger is the venom delivery apparatus. A scorpion strikes and pierces its prey with its stinger.
An adult scorpion can control when and how much venom it can produce, depending on whether it needs to kill its prey or defend itself from predators.
Some scorpions are also noticed to give a warning sting or dry sting pierce which has little to no venom.
How do our body muscles work? There are neuromuscular junctions connected to each and every part of our body muscles and it is a chemical synapse (junction) between a motor neuron and a muscle fiber. This junction allows the motor neuron to transmit a signal to the muscle fiber, causing muscle contraction.
The flow of ions between the neuron and the muscle helps in the proper movement of the muscle, that is by either relaxation or contraction. One such ion is the Chloride (Cl−) ion, which helps the muscle cells to know when to relax.
Once the neurotoxic venom is entered into the body, it blocks the chemical signals of those neurons connecting the muscles. It inhibits the neuron control over ion concentrations across the cell membrane, and so as a result the communication between neurons across a synapse gets blocked.
Scorpion’s neurotoxic venom contains chlorotoxin which is only about a 36 amino acids long-chained small protein that inhibits and blocks the Chloride channels and stops the Chloride ions from entering the muscle cells.
Thus, due to this, the muscle cells are not able to detect when to relax or contract periodically. As a cause, the muscles in your body all bend at once mostly at the site of the sting bite and thus paralysis happens.
How can you tell if a scorpion is venomous?
The smaller the scorpion the venomous it is. In general, scorpions that are less than 4 inches in length are fatal to humans.
Also, the scorpions with thin and smaller claws (grasping pedipalps) are more venomous than the scorpions with thick, chunkier, and large claws.
Another thing you can notice is the thick and large tail of the Scorpion. If a scorpion has a thick and large tail then it will contain a fatal neurotoxic venom in its stinger. Whereas, those with thin and small tails aren’t so venomous or mild venomous.
Highly venomous scorpions come in a whole range of colours, from black, brown, yellow, light brown, orange, and a mixture of all of the above.
Scorpions are generally nocturnal meaning that they will only come out at night time to hunt their prey. You will hardly encounter any scorpion during the day time.
They feed on insects, spiders, centipedes, other scorpions, and even small mammals such as mice.
Non-lethal scorpions have thick claws to hold, crush, and seize their prey and kill it before eating it. That’s why they don’t use and so don’t have that much of deadly venom dosage or no venom at all in their thin tails.
Whereas, the lethal scorpions don’t require any such thick claws to hold and seize their prey, as they have a thick and large tail with a neurotoxic venomous stinger to kill their prey. Venomous ones are more deadly than the thick clawed ones for their prey.
In simple words, scorpions with larger pincers use the increased muscle power to crush the prey and kill it before eating it. Scorpions with smaller pincers struggle to crush the prey, so they use the venom in the tail.
Which is the most venomous scorpion?
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Fattail scorpion or fat-tailed scorpion is the deadliest and the most venomous scorpion on earth. This scorpion belongs to Genus Androctonus of Order Scorpiones of the Class Arachnida.
Commonly called the Fat-tailed scorpion, it has about 18 deadly species recorded so far. All belong under Genus Androctonus.
For example: Androctonus aeneas, Androctonus australis, Androctonus crassicauda, and 15 more species are there.
They are included in the list of the most dangerous groups of scorpion species in the world. They are found throughout the semi-arid and arid regions of the Middle East and Africa.
They have a thick and long-tail but with small claws or pedipalps. Their venom contains powerful neurotoxins and they are extremely potential to their prey and even humans.
It includes some of the largest scorpions, that can grow up to a size of about 6 inches in length. Relative to other scorpions, the segments of its tail are very fat and thick, as has the stinger or aculeus.
Their appearing thick tail and stinger can deliver somewhat about 4.25 mg of venom, and that is just enough to kill an adult human within a few hours or even less.
Stings from Fat-tailed scorpion (Androctonus) species are known to cause several human deaths each year. But, the cure of the patient is possible as many antivenoms are available nowadays if properly treated at the earliest.
One important characteristic of the Fat-tailed scorpion is that they first give a “warning sting” and that’s sufficiently potent to only immobilize small prey as a warning and it’s not lethal.
Next, it can deliver a second “venomous sting” that will surely kill its prey. They will only use their second venomous sting during the times of their defense and also to kill their prey fast.
Are scorpions kept as pets? Is it safe to do so?
Yes, a few scorpions can be kept as pets but not all species. It is always suggested to keep only the non-venomous and non-lethal scorpions like the Emperor Scorpion, Tanzanian Red-Clawed Scorpion, Malaysian Black Scorpion, etc. as pets.
Remember that, if you want to keep a scorpion as a pet then you must never touch and hold them or take it with you.
So, better keep them in their artificial home and provide them with all they need like food, etc. and observe them from a distance.
They won’t be so pleasant but they are quite interesting to be kept as pets. They are of a quiet, and clean nature, and needs a fairly low-maintenance to pet them.
If you are keeping the most popular Emperor Scorpion as pets then they are mild venomous in nature but some humans may be allergic to it. So, better don’t touch them.
All scorpions are venomous and so sting, and depending on the species type, the sting can be mild to severe. So, to be on the safe side you are better advised not to keep Scorpions as pets if you don’t have any prior experience of handling a scorpion.
Another important thing to note is that the Scorpions are among those Arthropods with the longest lifespans. In the wild, scorpions typically live from two to ten years.
In captivity, or as pets, scorpions have lived as long as 25 years. So, consult a specialist and better get trained about how to handle a scorpion if you want to keep them as pets.