If you’ve ever lived in the American Southwest, you probably spent a bit of time thinking about scorpions. These pests have earned a somewhat deserved bad rap, at least in terms of their potential to kill. A common question asked by residents in this area is if a scorpion sting can kill you.
While scorpions can prove to be fatal in some cases, most of the time, the symptoms of their stings don’t cause death.
It’s still important to familiarize yourself with the appearance and behavior of scorpions. You also need to know how your body may react if stung so that you aren’t caught off guard next time you encounter one of these arachnids.
What Are Scorpions?
With their big front pincers and long, curved tail, scorpions look different from other arachnids, like spiders, mites, and ticks. There are over 1200 scorpion species in the world and around 90 of those live in the United States.
Desert scorpions tend to be pale with colors ranging from yellowish-brown to tan. Those that live in mountains or in wet habitats are darker, usually ranging from brown to black. Their average length is around 2.5 in. (6.35 cm), but some species reach 8 in. (20.3 cm) or more. They have four pairs of legs and a set of pincers but don’t have antennae. Scorpions have a long, segmented “tail” (called the metasoma) with a pronounced stinger at the end.
Not all scorpions are dangerous. One species to look out for is the Arizona bark scorpion, which can have a fatal sting. You’ll find this species mainly in Arizona with smaller populations elsewhere in the American Southwest, including Utah and California.
Where Are Scorpions Found?
Scorpions live on nearly all continents, except for Antarctica. You can find them in arid, desert habitats, temperate and tropical forests, and grasslands. They live at elevations as high as 16,400 ft. (5000 m).
Most scorpions dig burrows in the soil. Others hide under rocks, leaves, or other debris. These creatures prefer to hide during the day, doing most of their hunting at night.
They feed primarily on insects and other arachnids, but can also consume small rodents and lizards.
Can Scorpions Kill You?
Scorpions defend themselves using their stingers. Unfortunately, they sometimes must defend themselves from humans. But can a scorpion sting kill a human?
Scorpion stings have the ability to stop prey dead in its tracks when used in hunting. Luckily for us, these stings are usually not deadly to humans. If a scorpion stings you, you’ll most likely experience mild symptoms similar to those of a bee sting. These include mild pain, numbness, a burning sensation, and localized swelling. That being said, if you have an allergy to scorpion venom, you could be in more serious trouble.
Furthermore, there are some scorpions around the world (around 25 in total) whose venom could potentially be fatal to humans. The Arizona bark scorpion is one of these and is the only scorpion with fatal venom in the U.S.
Keep in mind that while some scorpions can produce lethal reactions, healthy adults may not have such adverse reactions – even if stung by one of these deadly bugs. Generally, infants, children, and the elderly are most at risk of death if stung by the deadliest species.
Luckily, there is an antivenom available to treat the Arizona bark scorpion’s stings. This means that death by scorpion sting in the U.S. is uncommon.
When Are Scorpions a Problem?
You can usually just ignore scorpions and leave them to their own devices. They do become a problem when they enter your home, though. Much like nobody wants bees or yellow jackets indoors, you don’t want to see a scorpion scurrying across your kitchen floor. Even if it’s not a deadly species, their stings are painful and can be especially dangerous for people with allergies.
So, you should take steps to prevent scorpions from entering your home and eliminate those that do. Start by repairing any torn screens, holes, or cracks in your home’s exterior. Scorpions can fit through extremely small openings. This means that eliminating cracks, holes, and damaged screens is the most crucial step in preventing an infestation.
Scorpions can also enter homes through poorly fitted doors. If you can see daylight through the gaps between a door and its seal, it may be time to replace the seal or add some weather stripping. You can keep scorpions away by cleaning up your home, too. They like to live in woodpiles as well as in piles of trash and other debris. Remove any unnecessary loose stones and store firewood away from the sides of your home, preferably off the ground.
What Should I Do If Stung by a Scorpion?
Scorpions release their venom from the tail. You might come in contact with a scorpion when you’re working outside or by accidentally stepping on one. In most cases, you’ll be able to see the scorpion after it has stung you, so you’ll know that it was a scorpion and not some other pest or insect.
Stay alert to your symptoms, paying attention to any changes as they appear. Most healthy adults won’t require any treatment for a scorpion sting. Children should receive medical attention, though. Reactions like itching, mild swelling, and redness are common. If you start showing more serious symptoms, like difficulty swallowing, vomiting, or an irregular heartbeat, you need to get to the emergency room as soon as possible.
In most cases, scorpion stings can be treated using home remedies like painkillers and ice, but sometimes you may need a dose of antivenom as well.
Do I Need to Kill Every Scorpion I See?
The short answer is: of course not! While having scorpions living in your home can be a bit problematic, in general, you should leave scorpions to live in peace. These arachnids eat harmful pests (including cockroaches!) that can spread many different diseases. There’s also some evidence that scorpion venom can be used to visualize brain tumors as well as to treat infections and tuberculosis.
So all in all, these creepy-looking pests are something to be respected and revered (especially from a distance!), but definitely not feared.