Caring for Emperor Scorpions can be a thoroughly absorbing experience. Keeping scorpions as pets gives you a front-row seat into their lives; from their feeding habits to their natural behaviour and even through to moulting.
Of all the possible pet scorpions available, it is the Emperor Scorpion (Latin name Pandinus imperator) which most popular. This is hardly surprising.
Firstly, Emperor Scorpions are large and impressive-looking scorpions that can grow to between 5″ and 7″ in total length as adults. They’re also shiny jet-black in coloration with huge claws to boot.
As a result they are very impressive pets; no wonder they’ve been used in the movie industry for so many years.
The starting point for keeping any exotic pet should be a careful analysis of their natural environment. As most exotics have evolved over millennia to thrive in certain environments, the more we can understand about how an animal lives in the wild, the more accurately we can replicate this in captivity.
Emperor Scorpions occur naturally over a wide area in West Africa. They can be found in a surprisingly large number of countries, including Senegal, Ghana, Togo and Nigeria.
In other words, Emperor Scorpions are naturally adapted to a warm and moist environment.
In the wild Emperor Scorpions build (or borrow) deep burrows in which they hide. These are most commonly encountered in rainforest habitats and/or on the banks of local rivers. Their burrow provides safety and privacy, while keeping them out of the burning sun.
There are a number of observations we can therefore make. Firstly, most Emperor Scorpions will require supplementary heating and a high humidity in captivity. Water should be available to drink at all times to prevent dehydration. Lastly, it is important that your scorpion should be able to burrow, or at least conceal itself under a hide, if it is to behave naturally.
Scorpions are natural escape artists and can climb surprisingly well. They also capable of slipping though tiny holes and gaps in a cage, so it’s critical that the cage should prevent escape. This is equally so for the lid of the cage, which should close securely to prevent your scorpion pushing the lid off and climbing out.
When it comes to Emperor Scorpion care you’re looking to achieve a balance in terms of ventilation. On the one hand, Emperor Scorpions require high humidities which reflect their tropical rainforest lifestyle. On the other hand, stale and stagnant air should be avoided.
For this reason the ideal emperor scorpion cage should have a degree of ventilation, but still allow you to maintain suitable levels of humidity.
There’s little point in keeping an emperor scorpion if you can’t fully enjoy it. Indeed, watching your scorpion out exploring its cage in the evening is one of the real pleasures of caring for them. Consequently a cage with good visibility – such as a glass or plastic tank – makes an ideal cage.
Ease of Access
Emperor scorpions are far from demanding in captivity, but you’ll still want to access the cage on a regular basis in order to top up the water, spray the tank, feed your pet and so on. Therefore a cage that prevents your pet from escaping, while allowing you easy access makes the whole process much more efficient.
Ease of Cleaning
Scorpions are far from messy creatures; it’s unusual for any unpleasant smells to make their way out of a scorpion cage but hygiene is important for all captive animals. Suitable emperor scorpion cages therefore will be easy to clean thoroughly.
Suitable Caging Options
When all these factors have been taken into consideration there are a number of potential cages suitable for emperor scorpions. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, so consider the following options carefully before making a final decision…
Possibly the best emperor scorpion cage of all is the popular Exo Terra. These cages are designed specifically with exotic pet keepers in mind and meet every one of the above requirements.
They’re sturdily built of glass, offering excellent visibility and ease of cleaning. They have a metal gauze lid which allows you to control the level of ventilation. They also have special locking doors at the front which provide easy access for you but also an escape-proof environment for your pet.
Best of all they look absolutely fantastic and provide a real focal point for your room.
The only real downside of Exo Terras as scorpion cages is that they’re not the cheapest form of accommodation, so if you opt for solution be prepared to spend a few dollars on getting your tank set up properly.
Glass Tank With Tight-Fitting Lid
Glass aquariums can be modified as scorpion cages. Such tanks are normally very reasonably-priced and are easy to come by. The biggest headache when considering a fish tank it quite how you will make the lid escape-proof yet allow suitable ventilation.
For this you may well need to hunt down a “cage topper” – a ventilated metal lid for your tank. Be aware, however, that these aren’t always easy to source and that they can cost almost as much as a brand new Exo Terra.
Plastic Tank With Reduced Ventilation
A number of clear plastic tanks are freely available on the market. These are normally very reasonably-priced and come complete with a ventilated plastic lid.
In order to use them for your scorpion it is a good idea to cover some of the ventilation holes, such as by placing a plastic bag over part of the lid. While this isn’t the most attractive solution it is a cheap and easy way to retain more humidity in the cage.
The downsides of such cages are that access isn’t as easy as with some other cages, and that the clear plastic acrylic can quickly scratch during cleaning, thus reducing visibility.
Large Tupperware Containers With Ventilation Added
While many people think of tupperware as small containers for your sandwiches, an increasing number of suppliers are creating very large plastic containers to store cakes and suchlike. Assuming that such a container can be found with suitable proportions they can be used to house your emperor scorpion.
While cheap, there are of course some downsides. Firstly, you’ll need to add some ventilation, such as by drilling holes in the lid. Secondly, the “snap on” lids don’t make for the easiest of access, while visibility tends to be much worse than you will find with other cages.
Specialist Invertebrate Tanks
A very small number of specialists are now offering custom-built invertebrate tanks. These are typically made of glass or acrylic, and are designed to offer the correct ventilation, visibility and ease of cleaning that we desire. Such cages normally look fantastic and can make excellent emperor scorpion cages, yet can be difficult (and expensive) to source.
What is The Best Emperor Scorpion Cage?
Deciding on exactly which of the above options is best is very difficult; after all what is ideal for one person may not be so for another. Personally I’m a huge fan of Exo Terras – both for their appearance and practicality. Custom-built cages are just as good – but can be much harder to find.
Lower-cost options like plastic cages or tupperware boxes can be utilized for those on a tight budget; however be aware of the downsides of such solutions which can lessen your enjoyment.
As discussed previously, for emperor scorpion care to be effective you’ll need to provide some supplementary heating in all but the warmest of months.
There are a number of ways to heat scorpion cages but arguably the best (and most cost-effective) solution is a simple reptile heat mat. These heaters provide a gentle background temperature which can warm your scorpion cage to the required temperature.
Note that it is always advisable when heating an exotic pet cage to provide areas of differing temperatures. By having one part of the cage warmer than another your scorpion can then thermo-regulate as they would in the wild, seeking out the area which suits them best.
Possibly the best way to achieve this in captivity is by only heating a section of the cage – typically a third to a half. Leave the remainder unheated and monitor the warm area with a digital thermometer to ensure that it meets the required temperature.
Water & Humidity
Coming from moist rainforest areas it should come as no surprise that emperor scorpions benefit from a moist environment.
There are a number of ways this can be achieved in captivity. Most popular is simply the spray the tank with a house-plant spray gun every few days. In the warm environment of your scorpion cage these water droplets will quickly evaporate, raising the humidity.
Alternatively you can gently moisten the substrate from time to time, whereupon once again the water will be able to evaporate.
Either way it is wise to invest in a digital hygrometer in order to monitor humidity with ease.
A very shallow bowl of fresh water should be available to your scorpion at all times and should be changed regularly to avoid bacterial build-up.
One of the nice things about emperor scorpion care is that these invertebrates aren’t overly demanding in captivity. Once you’ve gathered the basics – a cage, heat mat, thermometer and hygrometer (combined units are available) and a water bowl there is very little else you’ll need.
Of course, though, there are a few basic additions you should make, and the first of these is some suitable substrate. The same sorts of substrates which work for tarantulas are equally appropriate for emperor scorpions, so coir fibre or potting compost tends to work well as a base.
Try to provide a reasonable depth of substrate so that your scorpion can move it about and attempt to burrow if it desires.
The only critical cage furnishing for emperor scorpions are somewhere safe and secure to hide. Most commonly this comes in the form of curved pieces of cork bark, though a range of alternative options can be sourced.
Feeding Emperor Scorpions
Emperor Scorpions are carnivorous creatures. In the wild they will eat just about anything that is alive and of the suitable size – that is big enough to be worth catching but small enough to be able to subdue.
In captivity scorpions are typically fed on a range of live insects; most notably crickets and smaller locusts, but also other insects from time to time.
Generally speaking your scorpion will likely eat two or three times a week, though may go off food for periods of time around a moult.
Handling Imperial Scorpions
One of the reasons why Emperor Scorpions have become such popular pets (and indeed have been used in so many movies) is that they are known to be reasonably docile, and lack the potent venom that many other scorpions possess.
Generally speaking there are a couple of “golden rules” when it comes to assessing how venomous a scorpion is. Typically biologists find that scorpions with fat tails and small pincers (claws) tend to be highly venomous. Those with thinner tails and huge, impressive claws (like the Emperor Scorpion) tend to be far less venomous.
This, of course, makes perfect sense. The Emperor is a big scorpion with huge claws so can easily subdue its insect prey. Those scorpions which aren’t so well-armed instead have to rely on venom to protect themselves or catch their prey.
As someone who has been stung by an Emperor Scorpion once I can tell you that I experienced no unpleasant side-effects. The sting itself felt simply like I was being given an injection, with the irritation/burning sensation of a bee sting for a short while afterwards.
That said, you should be aware that allergic reactions can occur from such stings, and most people don’t know that they suffer from anaphylactic shock until such a situation arises.
As a result there are two camps of thinking when it comes to handling emperor scorpions. On the one hand there are those who readily handle their scorpion, knowing that the odds of getting stung are small, and that any resultant sting is unlikely (but not guaranteed) to do them no harm.
The other camp maintains that handling can be dangerous and stressful for the animal (especially if it is dropped) and that unless you’re certain that you don’t suffer from anaphalactic shock then you’re better to avoid the risk. I must admit that I personally am in the second camp, though only you can make a decision about whether or not you will handle your scorpion.
Fortunately Emperor Scorpion care doesn’t require handling, as there are a number of ways to move your scorpion without having to touch it with your hands.
Possibly the easiest of these is simply to gently coax your scorpion into a plastic tub using a pen or pair of forceps. Here the lid can be secured before the scorpion is removed from the cage. As emperor scorpions are relatively docile and slow-moving, directing them into the tub normally presents no problems whatsoever.
A second, less popular alternative, is to use a long pair of forceps. The ends of the forceps should be protected with rubber or sponge to prevent damage to your scorpion. Using the forceps you then grasp the scorpions’ tail, just below the stung, and simply lift the scorpion out of its cage.
It goes without saying that this process can take a little practice, and is far less safe for your scorpion than simply using a plastic tub. For this reason such a method of moving your scorpion is probably best avoided.
If you have any emperor scorpion questions not already answered why not ask in the comments section below? I’ll d my best to respond as soon as possible if I can help you…