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The truth about Scorpion stings

A very informative talk with “Boesman” (Bushman in Afrikaans), who explains to us interesting facts about scorpions, how to recognize the most venomous scorpion types, how to catch them, how they sting, etc.

If you ever travel to the Sossusvlei or Deadvlei area (Namibia), I totally recommend his guided walks (search for “Sossus-on-foot”).

NB: A scorpion does not “bite”; it stings! ;)

Video Recap: Interesting Scorpion Facts

– Scorpions are shy creatures and very sensitive to vibrations.

– It is mainly by accident that scorpions sting people.

– One needs to be cautious when picking up a stone as they often hide underneath.

– Scorpions are very active when it is windy. In absence of wind, insects fly around. When the wind is blowing however, they cannot fly so the scorpions come out and catch them.

– Don’t make abrupt movements in presence of a scorpion; you are at higher risk of getting stung.

– Scorpions dig with their pincers so they form an elongated hole (round holes are often from mice).

– When catching a scorpion, dig a hole from underneath its hiding place.

– A scorpion cannot sting from below so you can safely hold it in your hands. If you point your finger at it, nevertheless, the animal goes for the strike.

– Not all scorpions are venomous, and fatal encounters are highly unlikely.

– Adults have stronger venom than sub-adults.

– Male scorpions are more venomous than females.

– Sexually active males have much stronger venom than those that aren’t.

– Scorpions that haven’t eaten for long are most venomous. A scorpion that has just had food has weaker venom.

– Scorpions with small pincers and a big tail have very potent venom (power is in the tail).

– Scorpions with big pincers and a thin tail have relatively weaker venom (power is in the pincers).

– In other words, if you get stung by a scorpion with a thin tail chances are that you will be just fine. A visit to the doctor is not necessary although you shouldn’t take any risks when in doubt.


Emperor Scorpion – Pandinus imperator

Emperor Scorpion

Emperor Scorpion – Pandinus imperator


The Emperor Scorpion is also referred to as the Imperial Scorpion. They have long been a type of Scorpion that people are afraid of. Not only does the fear of a venomous creature bother them, it is also the very large size of this particular one that has people fearful.

The good news though is that the venom they produce isn’t nearly as potent as that of many other species of Scorpions. The sting from one though is going to be a very painful experience.

These are the one species of Scorpions that can be up to 8 inches long. The males are usually about 6 inches long. They have a very beautiful shiny dark color. They look greenish when they are under ultra-violet light.

What colors they will display though really depends on where their habitat is. These are living creatures that have a survival that will depend on them remaining well hidden from predators. What is interesting is that they are white when they are young. This is why so many people often mistake what they are seeing as another species of Scorpion at that young age.

You will notice that their pinchers are wider than that of other species. They also have a bigger overall abdomen and a tail that is very long. They are considered to be creepy looking to many people!


The Emperor Scorpion is said to be one of the most timid of all Scorpions but it may be hard to believe by looking at them. They have been used in a few top Hollywood movies over the years. Two that you may have seen include the Scorpion King and the Mummy. They have also been used by various cultures as a means of making medicine.

They are mainly going to be active at night. However, they can be seen during the day too. This is very true after it has rained as that is a peak opportunity for them to find more food – but only if they are active when those sources of food happen to be as well.

For the most part the Emperor Scorpion is shy and it won’t be aggressive. Most of the time when humans are stung it is the result of them encountering a female. Should she be carrying young inside of her or on her back she will go into defense mode quickly.

Emperor Scorpion Facts

Habitat and Distribution

The only natural habitat of the Emperor Scorpion is in various regions of Africa. However, you will find them all over the world today. This is due to so many of them being in captivity. They tend to find areas that offer them plenty of seclusion. They also need the soil or the sand so that they can dig burrows.

They tend to do better in areas that offer them some humidity. If you have one as a pet and you live in a dry location you should mist the environment every couple of days. During the colder times of years you can use a heating mat. You want it to only cover one part of their cage though. That will allow them to be able to move to a cooler area if they get too warm.

You never want to use a heating light for them though. All Scorpions are very sensitive to light. Using this to heat the environment for them can result in them becoming very agitated and aggressive. It can also cause them to not eat like they should.

Diet and Feeding habits

Termites make up the biggest part of the diet of the Emperor Scorpion in the wild. They have the ability to dig very far down – up to 6 feet – and to find those termite mounds. They will eat heavily as they have the ability to store up large volumes of food.

They will also ambush food sources by hiding in burrows that they create. Then they will use their pinchers to grab their prey. They will start to crush them but at the same time the tail moves in and the stinger injects the venom.

This allows the process of liquefaction to occur. The inside of the body is what they will consume of the prey, leaving the shell behind. The venom is powerful enough for that liquid processing to occur very quickly. It is impossible for any Scorpion to be able to consume food in a solid state.

They are also one of the top contenders when it comes to cannibalism. The females are more likely to do so. They will eat mates and their young. However, males are also known to consume each other. They may be fighting over territory or the right to mate with a given female.


All of the young for these and other Scorpions are born alive. They are called Scorplings. The gestation period can last from 7 to 9 months to double that much. There is typically about 12-30 young born at a time. They will be well cared for on the back of their mother until they are done with the first molting period.

She is going to run them off when she feels they are ready to care for themselves. Those that linger behind though are going to be eaten by her. To get them of her back she will begin to move them with her tail. She will also roll on her side to tip them off.

Emperor Scorpion information

Venomous Bite or Danger to Humans

This particular Scorpion has a lower level of toxic venom than most others out there. This helps to reduce the problems when people do get bit. This is one of the most common types of Scorpions that people end up keeping as pets. However, it is also important to realize that some people being allergic to this venom.

Bite Treatment or Care

Clean the area around the bite in order to check the skin. Some people have an allergy to the venom and then the area will start to swell up. You can apply ice to help reduce the pain and the inflammation. You can also administer over the counter pain medication.

If the person bit does have a heart problem or any allergies though they should be seen by a doctor right away. Early intervention can be a great way to be able to prevent long term health problems.

When possible tell the medical staff the type of Scorpion that the sting is from. If it is possible you can take it along with you for them to look at. Children seem to have a higher risk of serious health problems after such a bite so they should always be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.


Venomous scorpions

European fire ant helping spread of invasive plant

The European fire ant, Myrmica rubra, is invading southern Ontario. They can deliver a painful nettle-like sting. A study shows they may be helping with the spread of an invasive plant species.

The European fire ant, Myrmica rubra, is invading southern Ontario. They can deliver a painful nettle-like sting. A study shows they may be helping with the spread of an invasive plant species.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that our yards and parks are being taken over by a species of ants with a painful sting, now researchers say that these invasive insects are also helping the spread of an invasive plant species.

It is a double whammy, says Megan Frederickson, University of Toronto evolutionary biologist and one of the authors of the study to be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B Wednesday.

The results of the study of Myrmica rubra, the fire ant native to Europe that was first discovered in Ontario in 1970, suggest that “invasional meltdown could be happening right under our noses, here in Ontario,” said Frederickson.

“Invasional meltdown” is the idea that one invasive species could help the spread of another invasive species, making it more common in an eco-system than if it were invading a new place on its own.

“We don’t have a lot of examples,” said Frederickson. “But I think it is more common than we think it is.”

Research for the study was conducted at U of T’s field station, the Koffler Scientific Reserve, where the team created artificial ecological communities inside 42 small plastic children’s swimming pools. Each pool was filled with soil and planted with four species of spring wildflowers — three native species and one invasive.

Researchers then collected colonies of either the European fire ant or a native woodland ant and added them to the pools. The ants picked and moved seeds of these plant species as the researchers watched.

“The pools with the invasive ant were overrun by the invasive plant, but pools with the native ant had lots of native plants,” said Kirsten Prior, an ecologist and co-author of the paper.

The invasive ants moved lots of seeds of all four plant species but the invasive plant, greater celandine, took advantage of being dispersed more than the other species.

Greater celandine, the invasive plant species that the ants spread the most, is a weed commonly seen in Ontario that grows rapidly. It multiplies quickly in the same places where wildflowers like trilliums grow.

Traditionally people have studied invasive species in isolation, said Frederickson. “But it now seems that we have a lot of invasive species all arriving in new environments and they interact with each other. And those interaction help how fast they are able to take over.”

What is really worrying for the study’s authors is that if this kind of interaction between two invasive species is common, it could result in there being invasive species everywhere all the time and that invasive species could spread really fast.

How exactly the tiny reddish-brown fire ants — notorious for their painful, burning stings — travelled to North America isn’t clear but Frederickson says most invasive insects get to new places “because they are brought in with agriculture shipments . . . like crops. They are accidentally moved around the world.”

In Toronto, the ants, which seem to prefer moist areas, have become a lot more common in the past decade, say researchers. They are all over the Islands, parks like the Tommy Thompson Park, the Cherry Beach and the Don Valley ravine.

“Why it has taken this long for their populations to grow . . . isn’t clear,” said Frederickson.

Raveena Aulakh

Snake bites: what to do



Staying calm and getting as quickly as possible to a medical facility will give you the best chance of surviving a venomous snakebite. Even if a hospital doesn’t have antivenom, in most cases there will be enough time to order it in and provide supportive care in the interim.

It’s important to remember that most snakes aren’t venomous, and, when a venomous snake does bite, it will seldom be fatal. However, these bites can cause permanent injuries to the affected part, usually a limb, and occasional loss of life if infection sets in. Thus all snakebites should be considered a medical emergency, especially if identification of the snake is in question.

View: 12 dangerous snakes

The mortality rate from snakebite is around one in every 68 bites, resulting in about 15 fatalities a year in South Africa.

About 20% of bites will require major treatment. Recovery from a bite is influenced by several factors, including the amount of venom injected, the site and depth of the bite as well as the health, body size and age of the person. The time it takes to receive medical treatment also plays a role.


Symptoms depend on the type of venom injected:
• Most adder venom (such as from puffadders) is toxic to tissue (cytotoxic), especially blood vessels. It causes extreme pain, swelling of the limb and blistering. An untreated bite may cause death due to loss of blood, dehydration and secondary infection.
• Mamba and cobra venom are toxic to the nervous system (neurotoxic). Symptoms include “pins and needles”, dizziness, poor co-ordination, slurred speech, excessive salivation and drooping eyelids. This is followed by difficulty in breathing.
• Boomslang and vine snake venom are toxic to blood cells and the blood loses its ability to coagulate (haemotoxic). Early symptoms include headaches, nausea, diarrhoea, lethargy, mental disorientation, bruising and bleeding at the site and all body openings.

Get to a hospital immediately if you have been bitten by a snake, unless you are absolutely certain that it is not a venomous one. Phone the hospital en route and provide information about symptoms, and describe the snake if you can, so that no time is wasted in getting the correct antivenom.

Not all medical facilities will have antivenom, and they may need to order this in. However, in most cases there will be enough time for a patient on correct supportive care: neurotoxic venom is very fast-acting (20 minutes in the case of a black mamba), but other types of venom take several hours to take effect.

Read: Quick snake facts

First Aid for snakebite

• Get everyone well away from the snake.
• Get medical help as soon as possible
• Try to obtain a clear description of the snake. However, this isn’t essential, and you shouldn’t waste time looking for it. The symptoms will give the doctor a good idea of the kind of snake (neurotoxic etc.), and the severity of the bite.
• Stay calm, and reassure the person who has been bitten. Fear and anxiety cause an increase in heart rate, and thus a more rapid spread of venom throughout the body.
• For neurotoxic and haemotoxic snake bites, it may help to wrap a crepe or pressure bandage firmly around the area of the bite, covering the entire limb (from fingertip to armpit; from toe to groin). Apply hand pressure at the site of the bite until a bandage or strips of fabric can be obtained.
• Keep the person as still as possible and immobilise the affected limb by binding splints (e.g. straight branches) to either side of the limb. Keep the affected area lower than the heart if possible.
• If a snake spits into someone’s eyes, rinse with large amounts of water, preferably by holding the head under a running tap for about 15 minutes. This will also require treatment at hospital: a drop of antivenom is placed in the eye.
• Observe the person closely and record any symptoms and the time taken for them to appear.
• If the patient stops breathing, you will need to breathe for them until they can get expert medical help.

• Don’t use antivenom except in a hospital environment. Some patients react against antivenom and may go into anaphylactic shock, a serious condition that requires emergency medical treatment. Antivenom also needs to be kept refrigerated, injected correctly (into the bloodstream, not the muscle, and not into the bite site), and given in sufficiently large quantities to be effective.
• Don’t cut and suck the wound, or use suction cup devices or electric shocks
• Don’t give the patient anything to eat or drink
• Don’t rub potassium permanganate into the wound or soak the limb in home remedies
• Don’t try to catch and kill the snake

Preventing snake bites

• Don’t try to catch or kill snakes; get in an experienced snake handler.
• Watch where you step. Always use a torch when you walk outdoors at night.
• Wear boots and long trousers in the bush or veld. Step on top of, not over, logs or rocks. Stick to well-cleared footpaths.
• Don’t put your hand into holes, above your head onto ledges, or under objects when picking them up.
• Stay away from “dead” snakes – they may be feigning death.
• Always keep your cell phone with you when hiking, and keep it charged. If you’re going to be in an area without cell reception, consider getting radio communication, and make sure someone knows where you’re going and when. Have all the relevant emergency numbers on you, and know which are the nearest medical facilities.
• Don’t keep exotic snakes as pets; antivenom for their bites is not available locally.
• Don’t be blase about snakes; many bites (and some deaths) occur as a result of snake collectors and even experts with many years experience getting careless.

Cohen, Phillip. Pers comm. Material presented to the Congress of Emergency Medicine, Cape Town, 2010

Vietnam’s ‘Rat King’ saves rice farmers from vermin

Tran Quang Thieu, nicknamed 'Rat King', talks with journalists while holding trapped rats in a field on the outskirts of Hanoi. (Hoang Dinh Nam)

Tran Quang Thieu, nicknamed ‘Rat King’, talks with journalists while holding trapped rats in a field on the outskirts of Hanoi. (Hoang Dinh Nam)

Tran Quang Thieu, otherwise known as the ‘Rat King’, is helping Vietnamese farmers fight off the rice industry’s greatest enemy – rats.

Grinning widely, Tran Quang Thieu brandishes the day’s haul: 10kg of rats caught in rice paddies near Hanoi. A menace to Vietnam’s rice crop, the vermin are regularly trapped – and sometimes eaten.

In his village of Van Binh, on the outskirts of Hanoi, Thieu and his team work night and day in the area’s rice paddies. They estimate 20% of the annual grain crop is lost to hungry rats.

Rice is an essential part of the Vietnamese economy – the communist country is the world’s second largest exporter of the staple grain.

“We used to have to accept the loss of large chunks of our paddies – the rats destroyed it. It made us wonder why we bothered working so hard,” explains 46-year-old farmer Hoang Thi Tuyet.

Rodents can be a determined enemy.

“It’s hard to trap them, they’re clever, they move fast and in Vietnam there are 43 different species of rat to contend with,” Thieu says.

But in 1998, Thieu had a breakthrough – he invented a new kind of rat trap, more effective than anything farmers had previously tried, that worked without bait and relied on extremely strong springs.

Thieu estimates his traps – and his unique rat hunting methods – have since killed millions of rats.

“The agricultural losses caused by rats are enormous – and these rodents can cause fires and explosions by chewing electric cables in houses and factories,” said the septuagenarian.

At least 500 000ha of rice paddy is lost to rats each year, out of some 7.5 million ha planted across Vietnam, said Nguyen Manh Hung of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences.

“Rats cause hundreds of millions of dollars of damage, before we even mention the risk of communicable diseases,” he said.

Family business

So it is no surprise that Thieu – who is known as the “Rat King” for the trap that made him a fortune – is an extremely busy man.

“We get requests to come and catch rats from all over the country but we can’t take them all up, we just don’t have the time,” he said.

His five children have all joined the family business and between them they now run six specialised companies to trap rats.

Some 30 million of his special traps have been sold – they are used throughout Vietnam but also further afield in neighbouring China and Cambodia.

And Thieu doesn’t just sell them to rice farmers either: he’s signed contracts to help hospitals, hotels, restaurants and schools to exterminate pests – even the Hanoi police headquarters.

“Once, we trapped some 300kg of rats in just one night at a tourist resort in Hanoi,” he said proudly.

Over the last few years, the rat population has exploded in Vietnam due to a decline in the population of their natural predators – snakes and cats.

Both serpents and felines are popular delicacies in Vietnam – a country of some 90 million people – and their widespread consumption, thanks in part to an increasingly affluent middle class, has allowed the rat population to grow unchecked.

For this reason, many local authorities are encouraging people to kill rats.

In Thai Binh, just south of Hanoi, authorities are offering farmers cash for rat tails – a means of encouraging them to kill the pests in a simple intervention that protects rice crops without using chemicals.

Grilled or steamed?

In addition, rat hunters can also sell their bounty to restaurants. Paddy rats are widely consumed in the communist country, from the Red River Delta in the north to the country’s rice basket, the Mekong Delta, in the south.

Some of the rats captured by Thieu in his traps are sent to restaurants. Others are given to the farmers whose fields they were caught in, who either eat them or use them to feed their pigs or fish.

“For a long time we’ve eaten rat in Vietnam. Especially since the war, that was when people – mostly farmers – started eating them for want of other meat,” Thieu said.

Paddy rats – a healthier grain fed animal than their city cousins – are prepared in a variety of ways nationwide depending on the province, often grilled or steamed with lemongrass.

“Rat meat is very oily, like suckling pig, and very rich in protein,” said Do Van Phong, sitting in a Hanoi restaurant with two large paddy rats on a plate in front of him.

The dish is popular in Vietnam but there are no official figures on how many restaurants serve it.

But anecdotal evidence suggests it is widely consumed. State media reports that between three and four tons of paddy rats a day is imported from neighbouring Cambodia for the restaurant trade.

According to Phan Phan, a villager in Dinh Bang district in northern Bac Ninh province, rat meat has become a key part of local culture.

“It’s a common dish, it’s good to eat regularly, especially at family occasions – even weddings. People think it helps us to escape bad luck.”


2 million rats call the Big Apple home



There may be 8 million stories in the Big Apple, but one of them, that New York City is home to 8 million rats, or one for every human resident is probably a tall tale, according to research by a Columbia University statistician.

In truth, the city’s rat population is probably closer to 2 million, said Jonathan Auerbach, a Columbia doctoral student who wrote an essay on the subject published in Significance magazine.

The urban lore that there are as many rats as citizens dates back at least a century, Auerbach says. It may have endured in part because reliably estimating the city’s rat population is difficult even though the creatures are hardly invisible, as most New Yorkers who see them skittering about the subway tracks or hear them rustling through trash piles will attest.

“Animals are terrible survey respondents”, he wrote in the article, which was the winning entry in a young statisticians writing competition organised by London’s Royal Statistical Society.

Auerbach did not let the difficulties deter him, arguing that more precise estimates would be useful given that the rodents spread disease, start fires by chewing on electric cables and occasionally bite people.

His initial plan was to use a method that involves capturing a random sample of rats, marking them, releasing them, and then capturing another random sample of rats.

But the city’s health department, which is responsible for dealing with rats, was not enthralled with the idea, Auerbach wrote.

Instead, he used complaints from the public about rat sightings, which the city tracks and publishes online. Combining the data with a number of assumptions, he was able to extrapolate the number of rat-occupied lots to about 40 500 across the city, or less than 5% of the total.

If each inhabited lot is home to a typical colony of 50 rats, which would mean there are about 2 million rats in the city.

In a statement, the health department called Auerbach’s “interesting,” but added that there was not simply any valid method for counting any large city’s rat population, nor would it be particularly useful if there were.

“The precise number of rats would not influence how the city and property owners should respond to signs of rats”, the department said.



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