Emperor Scorpion Care Guide
Table of Contents
Ask an Expert
We love seeing pictures of well cared for Empower Scorpions! But sometimes setting up their habitat, and providing the proper care can a challenge. Our in-house zoologist can help identify proper husbandry, and the best ways to take care of your emperor scorpion if you have questions.
Emperor Scorpion Basics
Want a pet that’s a real conversation starter without having to do a great deal of maintenance? Well, if you like arthropods, then the Emperor Scorpion might be an ideal pet for you.
Emperor scorpions, Pandinus imperator, are indigenous to west Africa and are predominantly found in forests of Nigeria, Togo, Sierra Leone, Ghana and the Congo region. These nocturnal animals are one of the largest species of scorpions in the world, measuring an average of 7 inches in length. They are heavier than most other scorpions, and pregnant females can weigh more than 28 grams.
Their venom is mild and mainly used for defensive purposes; they generally use their huge claws to kill prey. Although somewhat shy with people, they are fairly friendly with each other, residing communally in burrows under leaf litter on the forest, along stream banks and also in termite mounds, the homes of their favorite prey.
Emperor scorpions are popular in the pet trade, as they are timid and their venom is mild. They are listed in Appendix II by CITES. Species listed in Appendix II are not threatened, but trade is limited to prevent endangerment by human exploitation.
Emperor scorpions are collected for the pet trade and for scientific study. The venom of emperor scorpions is being studied intensively, as it is abundant in interesting peptides. A molecule called scorpine has been isolated from the venom of Emperor scorpines. The scorpine molecule seems to have anti-malarial and anti-bacterial qualities. So not only are these animals interesting, they are useful as well! Oh, and they are also movie stars because of their spectacular appearance yet mild venom, making them easy to handle.
Emperor Scorpion Anatomy
The body of the emperor scorpion is shiny black in color with two huge pedipalps (pincers) in the front, four legs and long tail (telson) ending in a stinger. Emperor scorpions have feathery sensory structures called pectines behind their limbs for sensing features of the terrain. Males usually have larger pectines than females, which can assist a new owner with a young pet in determining sex. Also, those of females are much broader and set further apart.
If housing this species communally, knowing the sex can be important, or you may end up being a grand-scorpion to a band of 10-25 scorplings, nine months after courtship. Why so long? Because even though these creatures only live to be 8 years old and are not sexually mature until 2-3 years old, they are viviparous, giving birth to living young and not laying eggs. The mother also provides maternal care.
Emperor Scorpion Babies
Emperor scorpion babies are born defenseless and rely heavily on their mother for food and protection. Newborns are carried on their mother's back until they are old enough to be on their own after their first molt. It’s important for keepers to note that females are generally more aggressive after giving birth, as well as during courtship. Your once shy and cooperative female will attack cage-mates readily once the young are born. An under fed female may kill and eat her mate once he has deposited his sperm sac on the ground for her use. This is why identification of sex is important, as is removal of the male and any other cage-mates after the mating dance (a fascinating sight and part of the joy of owning this species) has occurred. If acquiring a female from a breeder, and that female is older than 2 years, find out if she was ever exposed to a male. A nine-month gestation is average, but she might be pegnant and not give birth for almost a year. Temperature and feeding regimen seem to have a bearing on gestation length.
Emperor Scorpions are Not for Cuddling
This is not a pet for handling. They can be handled safely by placing a hand gently underneath, but they find it really stressful. This may be because their eyesight is so poor. It’s better to just make the time to observe them at night with the use a blacklight, as they will glow blue-green. Their hunting behaviors, mating behaviors and maternal behaviors make the little bit of work they require well worth it.
Just like with bearded dragons, many pet stores carry scorpions, but it is preferable if you can locate a reputable breeder. Pet stores usually do not know the sex, whether the animal is pregnant or even how old it is. Breeders often have a more detailed record of a scorpion's life and health history. An emperor scorpion can cost $25 up to $100.
How to Set Up an Emperor Scorpion Habitat
A 10-gallon tank horizontal is suitable for an individual adult. The enclosure should have a clampable mesh screen on top. An enclosure that is too big can also make prey hard to find, so stick to a carefully planned, appropriately sized habitat for your scorpion.
Substrate and furniture
The substrate or bedding should be a mix of peat moss, soil, and vermiculite and should be at least 6 inches deep to allow for burrowing. Emperor scorpions need lots of substrate because they enjoy burrowing and will make rather extensive burrows, usually with several chambers. They often share burrows and seem rather happy to relax piled on top of each other within a single chamber, although there is plenty of space for everybody to have their own area.
The number one option for substrate is coconut fiber, usually available in compacted bricks which needs to be soaked for a couple of hours. A mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and coconut fiber can also be used.
Each scorpion should be provided with a hide, but you can also add pieces of bark, flat stones and fake plants. Wood, cork bark, or half of a small clay flowerpot can be used for a shelter or hiding spot for your scorpions. Adding a few fake plants also helps mimic its natural environment. Live plants are nice as well, and help with humidity levels, however, live plants need to be firmly anchored to the bottom of the habitat, as this species can and will rearrange the items in their abode regularly. It’s OK to place the items back where they were, except with a new mom. She will be both nervous and aggressive and will not appreciate changes in her surroundings that she didn’t do herself. But since your scorpion/scorpions will have built tunnels and chambers to suit their needs, when you change the furniture back to the way you had it, you will stress them out. And a stressed-out pet may stop eating.
Light, Temperature, Humidity
Maintaining a consistent temperature and humidity is an important element of scorpion care. The recommended terrarium temperature on the warm end should be around 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and can be achieved by using a heat mat under one portion of the tank (definitely not under the entire bottom surface). While supplemental heating is recommended for most North American environments, it's also important to give your scorpion a non-heated area to cool off should the tank get too hot. This species may actually die at temperatures reaching above 90 degrees F for an extended period of time. Indeed, depending on where you live, this species will need no supplemental heating at all. Their habitat should never be placed in direct sunlight.
Humidity levels should be kept around 70-75 percent, which in some humid parts of the US can usually be achieved through evaporation from a water bowl kept at the cool end. However, misting the tank twice daily may be necessary. If you see your scorpion hovering over its water bowl but not drinking, chances are that the tank environment is too dry. Conversely, if it's continuously hiding out in a corner of the terrarium, it is probably too humid. Although some variability in humidity is acceptable, in general the humidity should average around 70%. Too much misting and too much sustained humidity can cause health problems for your pet, so an average humidity that seldom rises above 70% is best.
In arid environments keepers may need to modify the top of the screened cage. Sometimes it is necessary to seal 1/2 to 2/3 of the screened top to prevent excessive moisture loss and lowering of humidity. A good enclosure should offer cross ventilation (holes/vents should be on the sides) and some top airflow, but should be sealed enough to prevent conditions inside the cage from becoming too dry. However, be careful not to restrict airflow too much, as not enough ventilation will create a stuffy, dangerous environment, prone to molds. Regions with cold winters, necessitating a furnace, chimney, or wood stove to heat the home, or hot dry summers, may require the keeper to acquire a humidifier for seasonal use to assure that the humidity levels will not get dangerously low. In these instances, even properly set up cages can dry out quickly. Keeping one room that contains your pet at around 65% will suffice for a few months for sexually mature adults that are no longer molting. However, for juveniles, especially those preparing to molt, low humidity can be deadly.
Although this species is social among their own kind, mostly, they should not share their home other, smaller species. From a practical standpoint, never mind predation, it is likely that the other species will have different needs for lighting, temperature, and humidity.
Special lighting is not necessary for scorpions as it is for many reptiles. The normal amount of light in a room is enough and in fact they do not like bright light. Keepers differ on the importance of a black light at night for viewing. Some suggest that it is harmful when kept on all the time. A compromise until more information becomes available would be for the light to be on a timer at the time when you know you are most likely to be observing your pet. After you have gone to bed, the light should switch off for the rest of the evening. An ideal lighting regime of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime is of course the best, but may not always be possible year round.
Emperor Scorpion Diet and Feeding Schedule
Emperor scorpions are obligate carnivores, typically eating insects and the occasional small vertebrate. Their favorite food in the wild seems to be termites. Adults generally do not kill their prey using their stinger but rather tear apart prey using their powerful pincers. Juveniles, however, depend on their stingers to kill prey. Interesting to watch, either way.
How many crickets and how often?
A diet of crickets, supplemented occasionally with other foods, is quite fine for pet scorpions. Adults and juveniles should be offered food every other day. Adults may fast for extended periods (a month or two is not unusual), particularly before a molt. When this fasting begins to take place, all uneaten live and dead prey items should be removed. Molting scorpions are easily stressed by the presence of other animals.
As with feeding any pet a mostly insect-based diet, thought must be given to nutritional supplements. Calcium supplementation should be added to the food weekly and a multivitamin supplement every 2 weeks. Regular dusting of prey items with a supplement such a Nutrobal is most important for young, fast growing scorplings - older animals that are closer to adult size need supplements twice per week at the most.
In addition to dusting, prey items should be gut loaded. “Gut loading” means placing the feeder insects on an enriched diet for at least 24 hours prior to being offered to your T. This enhances the nutritional value of the insects substantially. A purchased supplement such as those offered by reptile hobby stores, or even online, is easily available and affordable. The convenience of a dry gut load diet, purchased from a pet supply house, is undeniable. However, many experienced breeders and keepers have found these products inadequate, so for the really persnickety keeper (and you know you should be) the following formula for gut loading your feeder crickets or roaches is suggested.
- 24 pbw whole wheat flour (not self rising)
- 8 pbw calcium carbonate with vitamin D3
- 4 pbw brewer's yeast (Not baker's yeast).
- 3 pbw soy powder
- 1 pbw paprika (this is to provide beta carotene)
The ‘pbw’ stands for parts by weight, whatever that weight may be. Think of this formula as a table of ratios. For instance, if you begin with 24 tablespoons of whole wheat, you would add 8 tablespoons of calcium carbonate and so forth. So for every unit of whole wheat flour, you would add 1/3 as much of the same unit of calcium powder and so forth. Place your feeder insects onto this feed for 24 hours at least and then release the needed number into your scorpion’s habitat. Be sure to add kale and shredded carrots to the feeder meal from time to time to supply those vegetable based nutrients to your pet as well as protein and calcium.
As a change from crickets, mealworms, superworms, and roaches can be fed. Larger scorpions can even be given pinkie mice, although it is probably not necessary. Pinkie mice fed once every couple of weeks can help ensure proper nutrition, but there are other means of doing this as well. Correct nutrition and hydration is actually relatively easy for these pets, one just needs to keep a sensible eye out for emerging problems, such as incipient dehydration, one of the more common problems the beginning keeper encounters.
The easiest way to keep your pet well hydrated and keep the humidity up in an enclosure is to add a water dish. A large, open dish will allow water to slowly evaporate, raising the humidity inside the enclosure as long as it isn’t overly vented. It will also, obviously, serve as a drinking source for a parched scorpion.
Shriveled Abdomen - Is my Emperor Scorpion Dehydrated?
Although your scorpion may seldom be seen drinking, they will occasionally need to supplement their bodily fluids with more water than can be derived just from their food items. Not seeing your pet drinking is not cause for concern, however, a shriveled abdomen is. The scorpion should be offered food and water immediately. If the animal is severally dehydrated, more extreme measures are called for.
The scorpion will need to be placed in a plastic cup with a lid with a few pin holes poked into it. A paper towel liberally moistened with warm water should be folded and mashed into the bottom of the cup. It should be so damp that there is a tiny bit of standing water, less than 1/8 inch deep. Gently place the scorpion inside and secure the lid. Place the container in a warm area just a bit above room temperature (upper 70s to mid-80s) is helpful. A mildly dehydrated scorpion will often recover within 24 hours, but a couple of days might be necessary. Having a second clean container ready to move the scorpion into if the towel becomes dry or dirty is a good idea.
Check on the scorpion a couple of times a day and move her to that clean container if needed. All water, whether in a water bowl, a mister or an emergency moisture regime should be dechlorinated, non-distilled water. Care should be given when selecting the water bowl. Scorpions can and will drown in one that is even a little too deep. Even though they don’t need to be fed every day, water bowl management is something that should be attended to every day.
Cleaning the Habitat
Scorpions are not messy pets. They excrete a quick-drying fluid that has virtually no smell or mess.
You should clean your scorpion’s cage whenever it looks like it is needed, which shouldn’t be very often. The only item that needs to be cleaned regularly is the water dish to prevent it from becoming moldy or fouled by an insect that drowns.
Transport your pet scorpion to a secure holding container before beginning to clean the tank. Then…
- Remove any cricket parts from the tank,
- Wash the inside and outside of the tank with soap and water, rinse thoroughly,
- Spray with 10% bleach solution,
- Spray again with distilled water, allow to dry for 3 hours,
- Replace the old substrate with new,
- Sterilize water dish, and fill with dechlorinated water,
- Sterilize and replace water dish pebbles needed to make sure a thirsty scorpion doesn’t fall into its dish and drown.
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. Usually, increasing the humidity in its enclosure as a first step will yield positive results.
From birth, scorpions molt or shed their exoskeleton six times until reaching adulthood, roughly 3 years of age. Molting is normal and expected. A few days before a molt, the scorpion may hide, remain inactive, and not feed. If you notice its outer shell beginning to crack, it is likely molting. Remove any visible, living insects in the cage or other cage mates. It is vulnerable to attacks, including insect bites for 3 days after the skin has shed. Also, increase the cage humidity.
Once it starts molting, it takes about a half-day to shed its skin and then a week for the new outer layer to harden. Do not feed the scorpion during that time. Incomplete molts can be a life-threatening situation. Legs can be lost in the process. If the first molt seems difficult, the owner may want to provide a moist hide where the humidity can be held at 85-90% during the process.
Other than injuries to the exoskeleton, which are rare, scorpions are very disease resistant. One note of caution on injuries is loss of hemolymph, the equivalent of blood. Low pressure within the animals body will effect mobility, which may discourage movement toward the water bowl, the very thing that the animal needs access immediately to replace fluids. An injured scorpion may need water brough to him/her. The injury can be sealed with petroleum jelly if it is small, super glue if the injury is large and oozing freely.
Good husbandry will ensure that these interesting and conversation worthy pets are with you for many years of ohhs and ahhs (and shrieks from those friends with arachnophobia).