Dig Deeper

Overview Taxonomy

Overview

“Where I live”

Emperor scorpions live predominantly in the hot and humid forests of west Africa.

The Zoo features emperor scorpions among its Animal Ambassadors, which are introduced to audiences in education programs on and off grounds.

“How I live there”

Emperor scorpions reside in burrows and often live in groups of a dozen or more. They tend to shelter under leaf litter or forest debris. Despite their intimidating appearance, emperor scorpions are relatively timid by nature and prefer flight over fight when confronted.

Emperor scorpions are most active at night and are adapted to a nocturnal lifestyle. Their eyesight is poor, but they have tiny whisker-like hairs and special sensory structures called pectines behind their limbs that help them to detect prey and navigate their environment in the dark.

These large, black, shiny scorpions are equipped with two enormous pincers that they use to catch prey and tear food apart. They also have long, curved tails that arch over their backs, and at the tip of the tail is a venomous stinger. While young scorpions use their stingers to subdue prey, adults are more likely to rely on their pincers and use their stingers only in self-defense. In the forests where they live, emperor scorpions mostly eat termites. Their sting may be lethal to invertebrates and even small mice and lizards, but not to us. To humans, their venom is only as potent as a bee sting. Getting pinched by their pincers is much more painful.

Looking past their more “striking” features, shall we say, you may notice that emperor scorpions have some interesting physical characteristics reminiscent of another type of animal, such as 8 legs and several pairs of eyes. That’s because scorpions are arachnids, just like spiders!

“Making my mark”

Imagine meeting a black scorpion as long as an unsharpened pencil in the forest. It would make quite an impression on you, right? Despite their fierce looks, though, it’s worth seeing emperor scorpions in a different light — literally! Viewed under ultraviolet light, emperor scorpions, like other scorpions, glow a fluorescent bluish-green.

Emperor scorpions play a clear and beneficial role in their ecosystem. They help regulate insect populations and serve as a food source for other predators.

Raising Young

Female emperor scorpions typically give birth to 10-12 live young after a gestation period of about 9 months. The baby scorpions are helpless at first, and mothers will carry their newborns on their backs until they can survive on their own. As the babies start to grow, they molt for the first time. Over the course of a lifetime, emperor scorpions molt several times.

“What eats me”

Many animals view emperor scorpions as a tasty snack, including birds, bats, lizards, mammals, other arachnids, and large centipedes.

Conservation

Emperor scorpions are listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN, the world’s leading conservation organization. Nonetheless, their population is in decline. This and other forest species are threatened particularly by habitat loss due to deforestation. Historically, emperor scorpions have also been over-collected for the pet trade. They are currently listed on CITES Appendix II, which means that special permits are now required to collect them.

Taxonomy

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Scorpiones
  • Genera: Pandinus
  • Species: imperator