Scorpions are becoming increasingly popular as pets, especially emperor scorpions. They are not great for handling but they are quiet, clean, and easy to care for. They require a fairly long-term commitment and finding a willing pet sitter might pose a problem, but if you're into arachnids and insects, you'll find a lot to like about the emperor scorpion.
While they are the largest kind of scorpion emperors, they aren't the longest (that claim belongs to the flat rock scorpion). They are black (with green or brown hues) and have an impressive set of pedipalps (claws). As far as scorpions go, they are quite docile but handling isn't recommended for obvious reasons.
Common Names: Emperor scorpion, imperial scorpion
Scientific Name: Pandinus imperator
Adult Size: About 6 inches long
Life Expectancy: 6 to 8 years
Difficulty of Care: Easy. This scorpion is the one most often recommended for first-time scorpion owners (although is not advisable as a pet for very young children)
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Behavior and Temperament
Emperor scorpions are not particularly dangerous in contrast to some other scorpion species. Their sting has been likened to that of a bee as it is painful, but medical attention is not usually necessary. Some people may have an anaphylactic reaction to the venom as they do with bee stings (this does require medical attention).
Some people say that emperor scorpions are more likely to pinch you with their pedipalps than they are to sting. In any case, handling pet scorpions isn't recommended because of the risks, since scorpions are likely to be stressed if handled.
Most people recommend that if handling is necessary (such as when cleaning cages), you should use a pair of long-handled forceps with foam over the grips to pick up the scorpion by the stinging end.
The emperor scorpion is docile compared to other species, and will rarely sting or pinch unless it's feeling threatened.
Emperor scorpions are native to Africa and live in a humid, warm environment there. They are also nocturnal like all other scorpions. By being armed with these facts, you can provide a more natural environment which is the most challenging part of keeping scorpions since proper heat and humidity is vital in preventing problems with your emperor scorpion.
Glass aquarium tanks are probably the easiest housing to use and they should have a tight fitting and secure lid. A 10-gallon tank is sufficient for one scorpion but a larger one (20 to 30 gallons) is necessary for groups. Don't give them too much space since it will be difficult for them to catch their prey in a large tank.
Emperor scorpions can be kept alone or housed in groups but if you are keeping more than one, a larger tank will be necessary. A good rule of thumb is to have at least a couple more hiding spots than you have scorpions so they can each have their own space. If there is any sign of aggression between the scorpions, consider separating them to prevent injuries.
Some emperor scorpion owners use soil as bedding, some use peat, and others use vermiculite. No matter what you choose, though, it should be fairly deep (three to six inches) to allow your scorpion to dig burrows. Provide pieces of bark, flat stones, broken ceramic flower pots, or even reptile hides as hiding spots for your scorpion.
Adding pieces of sphagnum moss on top of the substrate will also aid in retaining moisture in the environment. Emperor scorpions will move the cage decorations/furnishings around a bit, and although it may not look neat and tidy, it is best to avoid constantly rearranging the furnishings or else the scorpion will become stressed.
Emperor scorpion habitats should have a high humidity level maintained by regular, daily misting. Regardless of the substrate type, it should remain damp but not wet. If there is mold on the substrate or condensation on the walls of the tank, the humidity is too high.
Emperor scorpions do not need UVB lights but they do need a temperature gradient between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and many scorpion owners even recommend occasionally allowing temperatures of about 100 degrees. The temperature gradient is important to allow the scorpions to regulate their body temperature as needed.
The easiest way to provide this gradient is by using a heating mat designed for use under reptile tanks. Place this under no more than about 1/3 of the tank so that your emperor scorpion can move from warmer to cooler temperatures as desired. Always verify appropriate temperatures by using accurate thermometers in a few locations within the cage.
Food and Water
In the wild, emperor scorpions eat a variety of invertebrates (insects and other arthropods) and vertebrates, including small lizards. In captivity, they seem to do fine with a diet primarily of gut loaded, calcium dusted crickets, supplemented with other insects such as mealworms and moths.
An adult emperor scorpion will only need three to six adult crickets per week, fed every other day or so. Feed at night to replicate the conditions under which scorpions would naturally eat. Provide a shallow water dish that allows the scorpion to drink if it needs to, but not too deep, to prevent drowning.
Common Health Problems
A frequent problem with scorpions is dehydration. If it's lethargic or has a shriveled appearance, this may be a sign that your emperor scorpion is not getting enough water. Consult with your veterinarian if you notice your pet behaving strangely, but usually, dehydration can be successfully treated by increasing the humidity in its enclosure.
Purchasing Your Emperor Scorpion
Many pet stores carry scorpions and other invertebrate pets, but if you can locate a reputable breeder, you might be better off. Pet stores won't often know if an animal is pregnant or if it's been exposed to any ailments. Breeders will have a more detailed record about a scorpion's health history.
If you're interested in the creepy-crawlies but aren't sure if you're up to caring for a scorpion, here are a few other pets to check out:
Otherwise, check out other spiders and insects that make good pets.