The thought of the scorpion often evokes a feeling of fear in us…their stinging tails and pinching pincers all adding to their already formidable form. But these creatures have an integral part to play in this amazing system. These solitary creatures generally come out at night to feed but are inactive almost all the time waiting in ambush for their prey, some scorpions though may forage for their food. Their incredibly low metabolic rate helps them through the harder times, such as extreme drought or cold, until such time as the conditions improve. They have an incredible ability to conserve water and in some cases will never even drink water as they obtain all the fluid they need from their prey.
Being cold blooded (ectothermic) they have to regulate their body temperature via their environment and unlike us they cannot generate their own heat or cool themselves down through sweating therefore they leave most of their activities for the cooler night. Research suggests that their activity will peak between 32°C and 38°C (89.6˚F and 100.4˚F). Their choice of shelter is vitally important and they will either burrow into the earth or find shelter under rocks to ensure that their microclimate is suitable to live in.
Interaction with other scorpions only occurs during courtship and the rest of the time is spent alone. There are examples of sociable scorpions on other continents like South America where a certain species actually hunts together. Even though they may appear to be venomous enough to deter predators, birds and even other scorpions readily eat them and there are many more predators ready to try to make them into a meal!
These amazing creatures are sit and wait predators and they use special hairs on their limbs to pick up the vibrations of their approaching prey. Using these senses they can locate their prey and launch an attack allowing them to get their necessary food. Their eyes play a very small role in their hunting, by placing their feet in a circular pattern they are able to pick up vibrations at different times thereby locating their prey. They will then face the oncoming prey to better judge the distance and as soon as it is in reach they will pounce, gripping their prey with their pincers, whether or not it uses its sting will depend on the size of the prey. If the prey is large and struggles the scorpion will use its venom. Those with big pincers will generally crush their prey to death and those with small pincers will use their potent venom to immobilise and kill their prey. They have been known to eat anything from insects, to reptiles, to small mammals and even amphibians.
The most interesting thing about scorpions for me is the way they go about courtship and mating. The female is thought to release a pheromone to which the male will respond. He will go in search of this female and when he finds her he will state his intention by vibrating his body, tap his pincers and wag his tail. He must do this in order to not be seen as a potential meal and only once he gets a positive response from her will he approach. The male will then lock pincers and sometimes mouth parts and once the female is secure he can then move her to an area where he can deposit his spermatophore. This can take anything from 5 minutes to half an hour. Once he has found a spot and deposited the spermatophore he then has to try and get the female into position where the hooks on the spermatophore will catch her genital opening. She may arch her back to assist him and he may even lift her and drop her onto the spermatophore. The weight of the female bends the spermatophore releasing the sperm into her genital opening.
Once the ritual is done they will break apart, often violently trying to sting one another or the female may even try and eat her smaller counterpart! She has the ability to store the sperm and have more than one batch of babies off a single mating. Gestation can be a few months to as long as 18 months. The female will then look after them for 9 to 14 days until their exoskeleton hardens and they can fend for themselves.