Emperor scorpion Care
Emperor scorpion by 'kevinzim' (flickr)
Emperor scorpion information
Emperor scorpions (Pandinus imperator) are amongst the biggest scorpions in the world, with specimens commonly reaching upwards of 8inches from the ‘mouth’ to the tip of the tail (tail flat and out stretched). They are a large, impressive, relatively docile (although there are exceptions!) and very hardy species which is ideal for the beginner.
In the wild emperor scorpions live in the rainforest and wet savannah throughout Africa. They are a fairly shy species, preferring to spend the majority of their time in their large extensive burrows.
Emperor scorpions are really easy to care for, I should say here however a happy emperor scorpion is probably one you won’t see so often, so get used to having a pet hole if you start keeping these. They are quite communal (you do get the odd individual which isn’t keen on living with others so always keep an eye out when introducing new individuals to others) and can realistically be kept in colonies of any size providing enough food and prey is on offer. I personally have witnessed colonies of upwards of 30 specimens, although I’m quite sure there are larger ones out there somewhere in the pet trade! I would recommend keeping emperor scorpions in colonies for the simple reason that you generally get a bit more going on within the tank, and get to see a wider range of behaviours (certain social, territorial and mating behaviours for instance). That and it doesn’t really take any more maintainance effort to look after one emperor as it does to look after eight!
Emperor scorpion (Pandinus imperator) by 'bsmith4815' (flickr)
Emperor scorpion housing
A 18x12x12in glass aquarium will be suitable for one or two specimens, however a 24x12x15in is probably better and will let you house up to three scorpions, four at a push! As a rough guide you should add another 5 gallons of tank volume for every additional emperor scorpion after this point.
Ventilation is quite important for emperor scorpions, or to put it more specifically its the lack of ventilation that is important. I would recommend having no more than one third of the lid of the vivarium as ventilation, the primary reason for this is humidity. Emperor scorpions require high humidity (80% or more is recommended) and the best way to maintain this is through restricted ventilation. I’ll cover more about humidity later on.
The key to happy emperor scorpions is lots of substrate as they love to burrow and will make fairly extensive burrows, often with multiple chambers. You will often find emperors sharing burrows/hides and they seem quite happy to rest piled on top of each other in one chamber, despite the fact that there is plenty of room for everybody to have their own space...
With their burrowing habits in mind, it is best to provide at least 6inches of damp substrate, or better still 8inches (I like to slope the substrate so approx half of the tank only has a couple of inches, and the rest is pretty deep). For the substrate the primary choice is coconut fibre, often sold in condensed bricks which you need to soak for a few hours. The substrate should be most enough so that when you squeeze it together it holds it shape but there is no excess water. If for whatever reason that coco fibre is unavailable, organic pesticide free compost will suffice, providing you microwave it for a couple of minutes to kill off any parasites.
As far as other decor does, you don’t really need a great deal of it, one small hide for each scorpion you have in there (6 emperors in a tank = 6 hides) plus a shallow water bowl, perhaps with a few pebbles in the bottom to reduce the already tiny risk of drowning. Anything beyond that is just decorating but feel free to go wild with rocks and fake plants and whatever else takes your fancy.
Temperature and humidity
Ideally you should offer your emperor scorpions a warm spot of about 30c, the best way to achieve this is with a heat mat stuck to the side of the tank. You will probably find that you need to stick a piece of polystyrene about an inch or so think behind the heat mat in order to insulate it properly to get the most out of it. As long as you are creating a warm spot of 30c you don’t really need to worry about the cool end, scorpions are extremely good at thermoregulation and will sort their own temperature out.
Humidity is very important for emperor scorpions, they like it very wet and humid. Let me start by dispelling a myth, many care sheets talk about the importance of misting emperor scorpions to help with the humidity (some care sheets even insist you do it twice daily, which quite frankly is ridiculous). This simply is not the case, they do not require you to mist them at all. As long as the substrate is damp (but not wet!) to the touch, and you don’t have too much ventilation, you need never spray water in your emperor scorpions tank. Don’t get me wrong, it won’t do them any harm, but it is totally unnecessary. When the substrate is damp the humidity is fine (you don’t even really need a humidity gauge, but if you did have one you’d see the humidity stays pretty constant in there whether or not you decide to spray some water in). Do however make sure you provide a water bowl for when they do wish to drink.
Feeding emperor scorpions
Emperor scorpions have something of a reputation for deciding for seemingly no good reason to fast for a few months (the longest I’ve heard is 18months, the scorpion then decided to eat again and everything was fine), so the first thing I’d say is don’t worry if your emperor scorpion isn’t eating, it is fairly normal behaviour.
Emperor scorpion mouth parts by 'clocker' (flickr)
In captivity the best diet for scorpions is mainly cricket based, with the odd locust etc thrown in for good measure. Feed baby emperors 1-2 appropriately sized crickets (probably 2-4th instar crickets, depending upon scorpion size) every week, and adult scorpions 1 or two adult crickets/locusts every week. Just chuck the crickets in the tank, the scorpion will find them as and when it is ready to. You will need to adjust this as you get to know your scorpions better, you might find that yours is particularly greedy and wants to eat more (you’ll see it out hunting often if this is the case) or indeed less (left over food items). Any uneaten food should be removed after about 3 days after which wait another 10-14 days before offering food again.
Broadly speaking its trial and error here, but the above measures serve as a good guide. You’ll soon get to know your own scorpions and their habits. There are of course times when a scorpion will eat more than would be expected, ie gravid females need to eat lots of food, and a recently moulted scorpion might be fairly ravenous as it rebuilds fat stores etc.
Breeding emperor scorpions
I wasn’t really sure if I should include this section, because the thing with emperor scorpions is if they can breed, they will breed. There is not actually a great deal you need to do to them to get them breeding (so put that bottle of wine and Barry White CD away) they’ll just get on and do it. Scorpions are great at pumping out babies which has some interesting ramifications. Ie if you have bought a recently caught WC adult female, then theres a 95% chance she’s already pregnant. If you have bought an adult female which has been kept in a group tank with males (as they often are in pet shops) then you have bought a gravid female. If you yourself keep a pair of them, then you have got a gravid female. Get the point?
Unfortunately the down side is that gestation for this species is about 10-14months depending upon the temperature, so I wouldn’t be too eager to see those youngsters. The upshot however is that emperor scorpions, like all scorpions, make great mums and as long as you have her set up right then you don’t really have to make any special arrangements for the babies. The only thing you do have to do is make sure she is left undisturbed whilst she rears them.
Emperor scorpion with young by 'jon.hendry' (flickr)
For those who don’t know, scorpions keep their babies on their backs for the start of their life (in the case of emperor scorpions this is 7-14days), during which time the larval like young she gives birth to undergo one moult and become pale slightly fleshy looking versions of the adults. I this point they leave the mothers back and it is a good idea to separate them from her and give her a good meal if she will take it. Emperor scorpions give birth to anything from 10-35 young at a time.
The youngsters can be reared together if you like, providing you offer enough food (1-2 crickets per specimen per week usually does the trick) and hides. I prefer to do this because its far less work and I actually have more success doing it this way as it is far easier to control the environment of one large enclosure rather than 25 smaller ones.
Handling emperor scorpions
All scorpions have a sting, and whilst this is a relatively docile species with a very mild sting (it has been likened to that of a hornet – painful but nothing compared to what some other scorpions can do) it is always recommended that you do not handle your scorpions. That said, occasional handling will do them no harm. The best way to pick them up is by the last segment on their tail (the one just before the stinger bulb) and place them quickly but gently on your flattened palm. Avoid any sudden movements and keep yourself low to the ground so if the scorpion does freak out and decide to bolt it won’t hurt itself if it falls off.
Please remember, even the weakest venom can cause a fatal allergic reaction.
Emperor scorpion handling by 'clocker' (flickr)
To summarize, emperor scorpions make great, if a little boring pets. They are communal, requiring deep moist substrate for them to burrow in. Temperatures should be 30c in the warm end, humidity should be about 80-100%, however misting is not required. Feed approximately once a week and if you have an adult female, expect babies.