The emperor scorpion, also known as the imperial scorpion, is one of the most commonly found scorpions in captivity. This is no accident, as emperor scorpions make one of the most impressive and forgiving species of pet scorpions.
Emperors are large scorpions, often reaching between 4.5 and 6 inches in overall length as adults. As well as an impressive length they also possess large, aggressive-looking claws. These dimensions, combined with their shiny black appearance, makes for quite an intimidating-looking pet.
That said, emperor scorpions typically aren’t a particularly aggressive or dangerous species to keep. Indeed, at present no licenses are required to keep them as pets (they are not covered by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act) and the venom they possess is on par with a bee sting. While there is always a risk of anaphylactic shock, this is also the case with bee and wasp stings. Some keepers therefore willingly handle their emperor scorpion, though this is generally not advisable.
The Basics of Emperor Scorpion Care
Hailing originally from tropical regions of Africa – such as Togo and Ghana – these invertebrates spend most of the daytime hidden away in burrows or in scrapes under logs or bark. As nocturnal creatures they typically come out to hunt after dark, where they feed on a range of invertebrates.
This natural lifestyle offers indications of how they need to be kept in captivity. Firstly, as large scorpions they require a decent-sized cage in which they can freely move around. Secondly, this cage needs to be kept warm and humid if your scorpion is to remain healthy. Additionally they will need to be fed invertebrate prey on a regular basis.
Imperial Scorpion Cages
There are a number of factors that must be taken into account when housing an emperor scorpion. The cage should ideally retain heat effectively, yet allow for the reasonable air movement. Without this movement of air, the humidity required by emperor scorpions can cause problems, resulting in mould growing which can be detrimental to the health of your scorpion.
The best type of caging is typically a glass or plastic container – such as an aquarium. The minimum dimensions for an adult imperial scorpion should be considered 18” x 12”, though most scorpion keepers prefer to go even larger – recommending a cage of 24” in length as a minimum.
It is crucial that this cage should have a close-fitting lid as scorpions can be surprisingly adept at climbing. It is not unheard of for scorpions to manage to scale the walls of an aquarium at night – often using the silicon sealant that holds the glass together to gain a foothold. To prevent your scorpion escaping, therefore, a close-fitting lid is critical.
As mentioned previously, however, this lid should also allow for some air movement, so as to prevent stale air from building up. Try looking for a cage with ventilation panels in the roof or walls to facilitate this.
As a tropical species it is critical that emperor scorpions are kept warm. A reasonable daytime temperature goal is around 25’C. This is most easily achieved through the use of a low-wattage heat mat or heat pad which costs just a few pence per day to run.
When heating a scorpion cage – or indeed that of any other tropical, cold-blooded creature – it is critical to provide a “temperature gradient”. That is to say, one end of the cage should be considerably warmer than the other. This allows your scorpion to move about to the area with the optimum temperature for it, and prevents overheating which can occur when an entire cage is heated.
Realistically the best way to achieve this is by heating just one end of the cage. The other is left without heating to create the necessary gradient.
There are two ways to heat a scorpion cage with a heat pad. The first if these is to place the cage on the heat mat, ensuring that only 1/3 to ½ of the cage is heated. The alternative is to attach the heater to the side or end of the cage.
For scorpions, the second option is normally preferable. This is because emperor scorpions are burrowing species, so have grown used to the temperature dropping as they burrow down. With underfloor heating, the opposite will occur.
There are two other benefits of attaching the heat mat to the outside of the cage. The first of these is that it is easier to satisfy yourself that the heater is on by gently feeling for its warmth. The second is that heaters attached to the side are less likely to overheat that when they have to work hard to penetrate thick cage substrate. Note that best practise is to attach a heat mat thermostat as a further failsafe against overheating.
As nocturnal species, scorpions do not require any artificial lighting. Indeed, you should aim to keep your scorpion cage away from windows, where bright sunlight can cause the glass cage to warm up dangerously in the summer months.
It is interesting to note that scorpions cannot see red light. As a result of this some keepers opt to place a low-power red lightbulb in or near their scorpion cage. This can be turned on in the evening, allowing your scorpion to move about naturally while providing you with an excellent view of him or her.
Emperor scorpions appreciate a damp environment. While a shallow bowl of fresh water should be present at all times to allow drinking, in reality most emperor scorpions will drink far more readily from droplets around their cage.
To facilitate this a houseplant spray gun may be used, with the tank being sprayed regularly. To reiterate a previous point, it is critical that the air doesn’t get stale so aim to properly ventilate the cage and keep a constant watch on any mould growth.
This spray bottle should also be bought specially for the purpose. Simply re-using an existing bottle poses risks as it may formerly have contained chemicals which could be detrimental to the health of your scorpion.
If your scorpion is to remain in the best of health then it is critical to try and replicate their natural environment as closely as possible. The substrate used with emperor scorpions should aim to retain a degree of moisture and to allow burrowing. Excellent examples of potential substrates to use for your scorpion cage include peat-free multi-purpose compost, coir bark or sphagnum moss peat. These should ideally be purchased from a specialist reptile shop – rather than a garden centre – to ensure that they contain no potentially harmful chemicals.
To keep your scorpion happy it is wise to provide a decent depth of substrate. Some 3-4” is ideal for emperor scorpions, which further helps to highlight why attaching heaters to the side of the cage rather than the base can make practical sense.
Emperor scorpions do not need complex cage setups. Once you have provided the basics – a decent-sized cage with a tight-fitting lid, together with a humid and warm environment and enough substrate to burrow in little else is required.
One other aspect you might like to consider is the provision of hides, under which your scorpion can rest during the day. Possibly the easiest hides are pieces of cork bark, which can be purchased cheaply from reptile shops. This bark is very light weight and so poses no threat of crushing for a scorpion that may burrow beneath it.
It is wise to provide a number of hide around the cage, so that your scorpion can hide away in the area with the most appropriate temperature. At a minimum aim to use two hides – one at the warm end and one at the cold.
Handling Emperor Scorpions
Emperor scorpions are one of the few species which can be handled. Speaking as someone who has been stung by one in the past, the author can confirm that the discomfort is minimal. That said, handling is best avoided as it may pose a risk to dropping your scorpion.
A better way to transport your scorpion is to gently coax it into a plastic container such as an empty margarine tub. Using a pen or other long object to direct it into the container. Then simply firmly attach the lid and remove the container from the cage.
Feeding Emperor Scorpions
Emperor scorpions are carnivores, so must be fed meat rather than plant matter. Indeed, while many people keep a number of emperor scorpions together as some keepers have discovered they can even be cannibalistic. Take care if you plan to keep two or more scorpions together, therefore, to ensure that there are sufficient hides and regular feeding, and so as to minimize the chances of cannibalism.
Feeding emperor scorpions is reasonably simple, in that they require live insects on a regular basis. Foods such as crickets, locusts and (in small volumes) mealworms are ideal. These should be fed as desired – typically 2-3 times a week for most scorpions.
Note that emperor scorpions, like all arthropods, will change their skin regularly. Adult scorpions typically do this once a year, while growing youngsters will moult far more frequently. During this time they will normally go off their food for some weeks.
When a scorpion moults, the new skin is soft and pliable, and this is the only time when your scorpion may be prone to attack from free-running livefood.
It is wise therefore to keep an eye on the insects in the cage and only feed what your scorpion is eating. If food is left uneaten after a few days it should be removed incase a moult is nearing. For adult scorpions try to keep a note of moulting dates, in order to predict when future moults will occur.
In closing, emperor scorpion care is really not overly complex. These scorpions can live for a number of years in captivity and may even breed, given the choice. For anyone looking for an unusual and low-maintenance pet, you could do a lot worse than considering the addition of an emperor scorpion to your collection.