Published on 07/17/03

Scorpions not as dangerous as they look

By April Reese
University of Georgia

Large frontal pinchers, six pairs of eyes, eight legs, a tail tipped with a venomous stinger -- sounds like a nightmare. But it's really just a "harmless" scorpion.

A scorpion uses its front pinchers mostly as feelers because even with a dozen eyes it can't see very well. And the venom in its stinger, which it raises threateningly above its body, is no stronger than a typical bee's.

They're not as dangerous as they look, said Elmer Gray, and entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"Many species of scorpions are innocuous, or nonpoisonous, and produce stings that are followed by sharp pain or a burning sensation and a lump, which usually disappears with no complications," he said.

At least two species, Gray said, are native to Georgia: the Southern devil (Vejovis carolinianus) and striped (Centruroides vittatus) scorpions. The former can grow to 1.5 inches long, while the latter can get a bit bigger.

"These scorpions aren't considered life-threatening, although some people may have ... reactions such as swelling and fever," he said. "People who have allergic reactions to bee stings may be more likely than others to have the same reactions with scorpion stings."

Although scorpion stings in Georgia aren't normally deadly, they still hurt. And "scorpions are aggressive and will sting if provoked," he said.

Treating the sting

Gray suggests using an ice pack and pain relievers to ease the pain of a sting.

"Washing the wound lessens the chances of secondary infection," he said. "Antihistamines may help. ... Calamine products, such as Caladryl, or corticosteroids can also be applied if swelling is prolonged."

If you have an unusual or prolonged reaction, he said, contact a doctor.

Night travelers

"Scorpions are nocturnal," Gray said, "and hide under debris, including boards, rocks, tree bark and rubbish piles during the day. They're attracted to areas that provide shelter, moisture and their prey -- mostly insects."

Scorpions don't usually live in packs or travel in groups, so it's rare to become infested with them. But watch out for mothers or you might wind up with more than you bargained for.

"Female scorpions produce an average of 32 young," Gray said. "The mother produces live young, which climb onto her back and remain there for five to 15 days. The young will molt in three to six days, and the typical life span for scorpions is three to five years."

Avoiding stings

Avoiding stings is the best protection. Gray suggests ways to limit exposure to scorpions.

"Remove all debris and vegetation that are directly adjacent to a home's foundation," he said. "Wear gloves when moving rocks or boards around the yard. Avoid putting your hands where your eyes can't see. And be sure to wear shoes when walking outside at night."

Some nonchemical tactics for long-term outdoor control include:

  • Move trash and debris.
  • Store firewood and lumber off the ground.
  • Remove unnecessary rocks, bricks and blocks.
  • Install a barrier strip of gravel around the foundation of the house.
  • Keep vegetation trimmed around the foundation of the house.
  • Seal any openings or crevices in outside walls.
  • Screen and weatherstrip doors, windows and vents.
  • Repair leaky air conditioners and other outdoor water sources.

Chemical treatments may be necessary, Gray said, to quickly reduce pest populations.

"A perimeter treatment focusing on potential points of entry can reduce movement into a building," he said. You'll get the best results if you apply the treatment at dusk.

(April Reese is a writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)