Featured Creature: Scorpion

Which creature gets confused for an insect, has two famous body parts, and is full of hidden talents?


Photo by Terminix

An old soul

Did you know that scorpions are thought to be the oldest land creatures alive? Fossils depict ancient scorpions as marine animals who took the brave step towards land about 420 million years ago, or about 200 million years before the earliest known dinosaurs.

Sometimes scorpions are categorized as insects, but they are actually arachnids, like spiders and ticks. Scorpions are also in the subphylum chelicerata, which includes horseshoe crabs. Creatures in this broader group have eight legs and two pairs of appendages. In scorpions, one appendage is the mouthpart and the second is the pincer.

Photo from Discover Magazine

A creature of many talents

Most arachnids lay eggs, but scorpions give birth to live young. The young immediately gather on their mom’s back, and she passionately defends them until they are ready to venture out on their own.

But before babies comes courtship. Scorpions dance (just like we do, but with eight legs), and they caress each other under the moonlight (it’s quite the date). When watching this dance, it’s best to do it under a specific light. 

Scorpions have fluorescent chemicals in their exoskeleton that cause them to glow under ultraviolet light. Researchers are unsure if the glow-in-the-dark chemicals serve a distinct purpose, but they estimate that it can provide protection from direct sunlight or help scorpions locate each other in the dark during mating season. Even after millions of years, scorpion fossils continue to glow under ultraviolet light. They really know how to light up the room!

Scorpions are unable to digest their food the same way we do in our stomachs. They need to turn their solid food into liquid form before consuming it. Once their prey is immobilized, thanks to two strong pincers and handy venom, scorpions cover the body in enzymes until it’s edible. It seems like the best solution for their dilemma of large prey, small mouth. 

Speaking of that venom, every scorpion species has some, but each kind is different. Out of 1,500 known species, only about 25 species have venom that can kill humans. Other species have venom with chemicals that can kill other creatures, such as their favorite foods: insects and spiders. 

Although venom is usually associated with death, research shows that certain toxins in scorpion venom can heal. One of these is chlorotoxin, which has led to new ways of diagnosing and treating cancer. Another example is antimicrobial peptides which contain anti-inflammatory properties, a perfect treatment for conditions such as arthritis. As always, nature is full of balance – between life and death, dangerous and harmless, wounds and healing.

Photo by National Park Service

Resiliency is an understatement

Scorpions live in some of the hottest places on earth and they can withstand the cold. They’ve learned ways to live in some of the harshest environments, including burrowing in the sand to prevent overheating. Researchers have found that scorpions will thaw themselves out after a freezing night, then get up like nothing happened. They were also found to be one of the few creatures who could survive areas with nuclear tests. And when there’s a lack of food, scorpions slow down their metabolism as they wait for better times. They seem to have an answer for everything. It comes with age!

As the climate crisis worsens, and the need for adaptation grows ever more urgent, we can all learn from scorpions how to prepare ourselves for changing environmental conditions. 

May we all be as resilient as scorpions one day.

By Tania Roa


Tania graduated from Tufts University with a Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy. Her academic research projects focused on wildlife conservation efforts, and the impacts that human activities have on wild habitats. As a writer and activist, Tania emphasizes the connections between planet, human, and animal health. She loves hiking, snorkeling, and advocating for social justice.