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Today we continue our look into the deadly world of the Sonoran Desert, one of the most deadly (and beautiful) places on earth. We have lived here for over twenty years and are quite familiar with the creatures that haunt this desert landscape. Our goal in covering these animals is not to frighten you, but to make you aware of things that go bump in the night so you can learn to learn to avoid them. Today, we’re looking at scorpions. Arizona is home to (at best count) approximately 56 species of scorpions. There is only one scorpion that can really mess up your pet if stung - and that’s the bark scorpion.  If you live near the territory of bark scorpions, chances are excellent that you already have them in your home. When I first moved to Arizona, little bark scorpions would often catch a ride home with me after riding horses through the desert during the day. I learned first to always wear chaps while riding, second to always take my clothes off in an enclosed area prior to coming indoors, and finally to keep a vacuum and black light handy so I could find the little guys. This didn’t stop me from being stung, but I survived the ordeal with a few days of some pretty extreme pain.

Identifying the Bark Scorpion

The bark scorpion measures from one to one and a half inches in length.

  • The bark scorpion measures from one to one and a half inches in length.
  • Color is not a good way to identify this scorpion.
  • This scorpion can climb anything but clean plastic and glass. So you will find it on ceilings, cement walls, shower curtains, in clothing closets and food storage areas.
  • They are most active at night and like places that are dark and damp.
  • To find them in a house use a black light, after dark. Under the blacklight they look like the color of a green Halloween glow stick.

How Scorpions Sting

Scorpions use their pincers to grasp their prey, then arch their tail over their body to drive a stinger into the prey. This releases their venom just as effectively as a hypodermic needle. Interestingly enough, you could be stung by the scorpion as many times as it decides to sting you.

Scorpions can voluntarily regulate how much venom to inject with each sting. The striated muscles in the stinger allows regulation of the amount of venom ejected, which is usually 0.1-0.6 mg.

The good news (I know, you’re laughing…) is that if the entire supply of venom is used, several days must elapse before the supply is replenished. So, hey - that’s something.

Your pets and the scorpion

Your Pets and the Scorpion

Most animals recover without a problem. Some animals, however, will have a more severe reaction, showing signs of neurologic, cardiovascular and pulmonary collapse.

Your Cats and Scorpions

First let me address cats because there is a myth out there that cats are immune to scorpion stings. This is absolutely not true. However, there are a few reasons why a cat may be less likely to die from a sting.

1. Scorpions don’t want to sting you - they want to escape. Since cats so often like to play with their prey, the scorpions will first try to run away.

2. Scorpions will release a “warning” venom which is designed to be painful, but not deadly. Usually cats will release the scorpion or refuse to play with it, giving the scorpion time to crawl away.

3. Cats are faster than humans and they can often kill a scorpion before it has a chance to sting.

4. Cats are much better at hiding pain than any other animal. They will often not show symptoms until it is too late. This is why it’s important to watch your cats carefully in Arizona.

This does not mean that cats are immune, and indeed, we have heard of many cats being stung and receiving veterinary care.

The University of Arizona recently did a study in conjunction with the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center (keep their number on hand while in Arizona - it's 1-800-222-1222 and it's a 24/7 number). They were only able to gather data on seven cats during this study.

“The seven cats in our study all showed some type of local effect, such as the yelping, pawing, rubbing, licking of the sting site, shaking of the head and limping. Seventy-one percent of the cats also developed more serious signs, such as tremors, agitation, roving eye movements and changes in breathing.”

Your Dogs and Scorpions

According to the study mentioned above, larger dogs do better with scorpion stings than smaller dogs.

The most common symptoms of a scorpion bite that is seen in dogs include:

  • yelping
  • jumping back
  • limping
  • head shaking
  • head rubbing
  • pawing at nose
  • licking the sting site

The more serious effects, such as tremors, restlessness and changes in breathing, were seen in 39 percent of the small dogs and 13 percent of the larger dogs.

The average time that the animals showed effects from the sting was eight hours. Seventy-one percent of the large dogs were much better in four hours, while 61 percent of the small dogs were better in four hours.

We always recommend immediate veterinary care for pets who are stung by a scorpion. However, if you are more conservative, you can closely observe your pet for four hours to see what types of symptoms develop before you make that expensive emergency call.

If your pet develops any symptoms beyond pain at the site, you should be contacting your veterinarian for their immediate recommendations. If it’s possible to grab the scorpion that stung your pet, do it. But don’t get stung yourself.

Getting Rid of Scorpions

There are no guaranteed ways of eliminating scorpions from your home, particularly if you live in an area that was infested with them from the beginning. Your options then include selling your home.

Pest Control:

If you use a commercial pest control service, make sure you use a group who specializes in scorpions. Also be very sure to tell them your expectations regarding the safety of your pets and follow their instructions exactly. 

Bear in mind that according to Wikipedia, ““During US nuclear testing, scorpions, along with cockroaches and lizards, were found near ground zero with no recorded adverse effects.” So don’t expect a miracle...

Black Lights:

Many Arizona residents make scorpion hunting in the yard a family affair. It’s often done on full moons when scorpions are most active, and it involves walking around the house with a black light, seeking out the little guys in crevices of walls and around floorboards. This can be pretty traumatic if you’re like me and hate killing anything.

Personally, I suggest you let the professionals handle it.

Handy Tips: The best option is to avoid being stung in the first place. One of the first things I learned when I moved to Arizona is to check my shoes before I slip them on. Scorpions love dark places to hide. Here are a few other handy tips...

Tips to Survive in Deserts
  • Check your shoes before putting them on
  • Don’t reach under rocks or crevices
  • Don’t lift filter lids by placing fingers in there

Common sense goes a long way in the desert. Just pay attention to your surroundings and you'll learn that the desert is not nearly as hostile as you may think. Respect the land, respect the wildlife, and enjoy having the fun in the sun.


Learn About Desert Wildlife

Learn more about Desert Wildlife in our "Desert Dangers" series for pet owners.

Other Articles You May Enjoy:

Author: stacymantle
About the Author

Stacy Mantle is a freelance writer who currently resides in the southwestern deserts of Arizona with a few dogs, several cats, and a very understanding husband. She is a regular contributor to Pet Age Magazine, Catster, Animal Behavior College, and of course, PetsWeekly. Many of her stories and articles have been translated into several languages, and now reach an international audience. She is also the author of a bestselling urban fantasy/thriller, Shepherd's Moon; a humor book entitled, Conquering the Food Chain: Living Amongst Animals (Without Becoming One), and a line of Educational Activity Books for children.

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