Scorpion or Tarantula? Which is the better pet?

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Emperor Scorpions vs. Tarantulas - Which is the better pet?

There is no doubt that living creatures brighten a home. And for folks who are not squeamish, want something exotic that is clean, interesting, affordable and doesn’t take a lot of room or care, then an arthropod pet might be just the thing.

During the pandemic, the demand for invertebrates such as emperor scorpions and tarantulas sky rocketed. For instance, breeders of Mexican red-legged tarantulas, a very popular pet species, cannot keep up with demand. They produce over 15,000 young spiders each year for the pet trade in the US and Canada, with most orders from Europe and Asia going unfilled. So is that because they are the most awesome of arthropod pets and that is what any new keeper should want? The guide below will help shoppers decide on what sort of pet is right for them.

Emperor Scorpions

emperor scorpion pet

Emperor scorpions are one of the largest species of scorpions in the world, measuring an average of 7 inches in length. It is their imposing size combined with their gentle nature and mild venom that makes them popular in the invertebrate pet trade. They are heavier than most other scorpions, and gravid females can weigh a full ounce. 

Appearance

This species is shiny black in color with two huge pedipalps (pincers) in the front and a very long tail (telson) ending in a venomous stinger. Their venom is mainly used for defensive purposes only, however, since they 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 floor. 

Reproduction

If housing this species communally, knowing the sex can be important, or you may end up being a grandparent 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.  

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.  

Observation Only

scorpion black light

This is not a pet for handling.  It’s better to just make the time to observe them at night with the use of 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. 

Scorpions do not require a lot of space

This animal is a great choice for someone with very little space for a pet, who wants a fascinating animal to observe. A 10-gallon tank horizontal is suitable for two adults.  An enclosure that is too big can make prey hard to find, so stick to a carefully planned, appropriately sized habitat for your scorpion. More can be housed together if enough hides are provided in a larger tank and no females are pregnant. They often share burrows and seem rather happy to relax piled on top of each other within a single chamber even when there is plenty of space for everybody to have their own spot.  A substrate of at least two inches deep will keep this nocturnal, burrowing pet happiest.

Temps and Humidity are Critical for Scorpion Health

Maintaining a fairly 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 some 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 may need no supplemental heat at all. 

Humidity levels should be kept around 60-65 %, 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 once or 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 65%.  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. 

Lighting

Special lighting is not necessary for these pets. They need approximately 12 hours of dark, although can tolerate limited blacklight illumination after dark periodically.

Food

scorpion eats crickets

Emperor scorpions are obligate carnivores, typically eating insects and the occasional small vertebrate.  Adults and juveniles should be offered food every other day.  For keepers who need to travel, well-nourished adults may fast for extended periods (a month or two is not unusual), particularly before a molt.  Molting scorpions are easily stressed by the presence of other animals, so withholding live food is advised.

As with feeding any pet a mostly insect-based diet, thought must be given to nutritional supplements.   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.  Adding calcium is a matter of debate among keepers. Some say never do it because it is harmful, some say provide phosphorus free calcium periodically, and some recommend gutloading crickets with a calcium laden feed just to be on the safe side. As a change from crickets, mealworms, super worms, and roaches can be fed. Larger scorpions can even be given pinkie mice, although it is probably not necessary.  

Hydration is a more important consideration than calcium or other supplements. Although a 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 the pet drinking is not cause for concern, however, a shriveled abdomen is.  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. This is a greater consideration for keepers needing to travel than feeding is.

Habitat Sanitation

Scorpions are not messy pets. They excrete a quick-drying fluid that has virtually no smell or mess.  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.

These are very hardy animals that suffer from very few problems when not stressed and not overcrowded. Aside from hydration issues, the next most common difficulty is incomplete molts which can be a life-threatening situation.  Legs can be lost in the process.  If a molt is due, the owner may want to provide a moist hide where the humidity can be held at 85-90% during the process. 

For keepers who are gone during the day but home at night who want something interesting to observe, this pet makes a very nice choice.

Tarantulas

tarantula pet care

There is only one emperor scorpion, but there are dozens of tarantula species that make great pets. Some of these are appropriate for beginners, and some require more experience. 

Tarantulas seldom bite, although they can, and some species can make you quite ill. The bites of these animals can cause redness and swelling at the bite site, sometimes accompanied by muscle spasms, itching, stiff joints, sweating, and tightness in the chest. Still, beginners will find a wide variety of beautiful and utterly harmless pet tarantula species to choose from. 

Venomous or Hair Flickers

tarantula flicking hairs

A new keeper needs to consider terrestrial vs arboreal, and Old World vs. New World species. Old Worlders do not flick hairs, and so have a more potent venom than their New World cousins. They also move much faster than their New World cousins. Their first inclination is to retreat if the option is available, but a captive adult has limited options for flight. If they consider you to be within their territorial bounds, which many do as soon as you pop the opening on their container, they are ready to defend their burrow, legs and fangs raised.  This can be intimidating for new owners and children. New World terrestrial tarantulas are calmer and generally where newbies should begin.

Terrestrial Tarantulas

A terrestrial species such as the popular Mexican red knee can easily be kept in a 10 gallon tank.  Even though not technically superlative tree climbers, they still do pretty well and are notorious escape artists. The enclosure should have a clampable mesh screen on top, and preferably feature a side opening to prevent the tarantula from falling each time you need to service its tank (since tarantulas like to hang out on top).  

Temps and Humidity

Maintaining a fairly consistent temperature and humidity is an important element of their care. The recommended terrarium temperature is around 75 to 80 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 certain North American environments, in a manner similar to emperor scorpions it's also important to give your spider a non-heated area to cool off should the tank get too hot. Also like scorpions, these pets may also die at temperatures reaching above 90 degrees F for an extended period of time.  Depending on where the keeper lives, many species of terrestrial tarantulas will need no supplemental heating at all. If the keeper finds the temperature comfortable, then odds are the spider is fine as well.

Humidity levels should be kept around 60 to 70%, which can usually be achieved through evaporation from a water bowl. However, in some particularly arid climates, misting the tank daily may be necessary. Although some variability in humidity is acceptable, in general the humidity should average around 65%.  Too much misting and too much sustained humidity can cause health problems for your new pet, so an average humidity that seldom rises above 70% is best.

Arboreal Tarantulas

Arboreal tarantulas have very different needs than those of terrestrial and burrowing types.  Also, they are really not a pet that should be handled.  For instance, the ​pinktoe (Avicularia avicularia) is often cited as a good first arboreal tarantula but not a good first tarantula overall.  They are fast and agile, making handling more difficult. They rarely bite but can jump out of your hands, flick urticating hairs, and even spray fecal matter at you with their little pink toes. They also tend to be less placid in nature than terrestrials, 

Taller Tanks Required

Pink toe and other arboreal tarantulas need a taller tank than terrestrial species that provides them with ample room to climb. A 10-gallon vertical tank with a secure side opening works best. Since arboreal tarantulas like to spin webs up high, a side opening habitat prevents damage to the web every time you need to feed your pet. These species don’t burrow, so 2 inches of a substrate will be adequate for several months. They will definitely need logs, branches, and live plants for climbing. 

For beginners who want multiple pets in one habitat, pink toes and several other species can share their captive home with others of the same species, but solitary housing removes the threat of cannibalism—a situation that can occur in tight quarters or with poor husbandry.  Heating needs are similar to a terrestrial tarantula, as is humidity, which can run a little higher but should not be much lower than 60%.  

As with scorpions, special lighting is not necessary for tarantulas. The normal amount of light in a room is sufficient and very bright light should be avoided. 

Habitat Sanitation

Like scorpions, tarantulas are not messy pets. They excrete a quick-drying fluid that has virtually no smell or mess. You should clean your tarantula’s cage whenever it looks like it is needed, which shouldn’t be very often. As with scorpions, the greatest daily care and cleaning need will be for the water dish, which needs to be broad and shallow, just as with the emperor scorpion. 

Diet

A diet of crickets, supplemented occasionally with other foods, is fine for pet tarantulas. Adults only need to eat about once a week, juveniles (known as ‘slings’ in the pet trade) should be offered food every other day.  Adults who are molting will refuse food and may flip over onto their backs.  This is OK and does not indicate a disease or a bad molt yet. But live prey in the environment will make them feel very vulnerable at this stage.

Nutritional supplementation is similar to a scorpion’s, with calcium probably not needed except as a gutload. 

Avoid dehydration

The easiest way to keep your pet well hydrated and keep the humidity up in an enclosure is to add a water dish. Like a scorpion, a shriveled abdomen is a serious sign, and loss of coordination of limbs is an emergency.  New owners should not purchase any tarantula that exhibits a shrunken abdomen. If dehydration occurs after the animal is brought home, the spider 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.  The tarantula needs to have a water source right around its mouth, which is not used for breathing, but still be able to breathe through the book lungs that are on the bottom of its abdomen. A mildly dehydrated tarantula will often recover within 24 hours, but a couple of days might be necessary. This same treatment works well for a dehydrated scorpion too.  This is a vulnerable time for the animal, who should not be neglected during this period. 

Extremely busy lifestyle pet shoppers need to bear in mind that these pets will require almost daily care and observation. Feeding and cleaning may only require 10 minutes for young animals and even less for healthy adults, but they will require some effort and cannot be left to fend for themselves for several days at a time. 

Which is the better pet?

So which is better? It all depends on the new keepers’ preferences and life style. To help with the decision making process, the scorecard below may help.

Scorecard of attributes for the two species where 1 indicates a less desirable situation and 5 being maximally desirable.

Expense at purchase:

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  4  5  

Both species will cost about $35-$50 to purchase, 

Monthly Expense: 

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  4  5  

Extremely economical pets with monthly feeding costs less than $10/month.

Set Up Expense

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  5  

Tank size will be similar for both, but tarantulas may need more elaborate furnishings and deeper substrate.

Cleanliness

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  4  5  

Temperament

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  5  

These scorpions are not aggressive, but really don’t like to be handled. Frequent handling will shorten their 8 year life span. Depending upon the tarantula species chosen, some will tolerate handling fairly well, but do not enjoy it.

Longevity

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  4  5  

If a long-lived pet is preferred, then tarantulas are a better choice, living to 20 years with proper care.

Hardiness

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  4  5  

Safety

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  5  

This factor depends on the type of tarantula being compared. New World species are a safer choice than Old World.

Appearance

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  4  5  

This again depends on the tarantula species under consideration. Emperor scorpions come in one color, deep black, while tarantulas can come in a stunning array of colors.

Suitability for young children

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  4  5  

Very young children can be equally entertained by either choice. Scorpions viewed under a blacklight, or mothers with young can provide great viewing moments. Tarantulas are also very interesting but perhaps less so for children than adults, and a dropped spider can be injured easily.

Ease of Maintenance:

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  5  

Hydration needs as well as habitat sanitation needs are virtually identical. Arboreal tarantulas may need more attention to humidity than emperor scorpions or terrestrial tarantulas.

Convenience:

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  4  5  

Feeding, heating and lighting are easy and virtually the same.

Availability:

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  4  5  

Often available in pet stores, but both can be ordered from reputable breeders online and shipped to your doorstep.

Ability to leave alone for travel:

Emperor Scorpion:  1  2  3  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  3  5  

Adults of both species can be left without food for a week, but water resources may become an issue. Pet sitters will need to be selected who do not mind putting a hand inside the habitat to retrieve the dish or freshen the water.

Friendliness:

Emperor Scorpion:  2  3  4  5  

Tarantula: 1  2  4  5  

Tarantulas are less shy, and therefore tolerate handling better. Neither species learns to recognize their owners.

******

These fascinating invertebrate pets can be a source of delight for folks who don’t need a warm and fuzzy companion to great them at the end of a long day. Best of luck with shopping!

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