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What Is a Scorpion?

Scorpions come in a range of colors, from black to beige.
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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 02 August 2014
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A scorpion is an arthropod in the class arachnida, which includes spiders, mites and ticks. Arthropods have an outer skeleton with a segmented body composition and jointed legs. Scorpions have a rectangular or oval midsection that tapers into a distinctive raised-up tail with a curled tip. Their eight legs include two large front claws called pedipalps. The telson, or tip of the tail, contains venom-filled glands made to dissolve the tissues of its prey.

The tail's tip injects venom as it stings; some, but not all scorpion species, are deadly to humans. Smaller prey such as spiders and insects are killed immediately by the sting. For humans, even if stings by scorpions aren't deadly, they're usually quite painful. If the creatures feel threatened, they're likely to sting. Feather-like sensory organs called pectines hang under the abdomen, while the feet and pedipalps also sense vibrations.

In addition to the abdomen section, the other main part of a scorpion is its head. Its eyes are located in the middle of the head. Depending on the species, scorpions may have two to five pairs of eyes. Some species have no eyes.

Scorpions range in length between about 2-5 inches (5.8-12.7 cm). One type, Hadogenes troglodytes, or African scorpion, commonly reaches 8 inches (20.32 cm) or larger. Larger scorpions may prey on bats and birds, while smaller species tend to eat mainly insects and spiders.

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Although most scorpions are found in warmer climates, they are adaptable. Worldwide, scorpions survive everywhere except Antarctica. Scorpions aren't native to England or Australia, but were thought to have been brought there accidentally on cargo trade ships. This species, Euscorpius flavicaudis, is non-venomous. While some scorpion species live in trees, many others thrive in mountains, caves, rocky areas and deserts; in the United States, the majority of scorpions are found in the Southwest.

Throughout the world, there are at least 1,300-2,000 known species and sub-species of scorpion. While all scorpions have the same basic structure, the colors vary from beige to black; some are pink, while others feature stripes. Scorpions are nocturnal, which means they are out at night and hide during the day. Rock piles and logs are typical daytime areas for scorpions. Some species are burrowers that spend most of their time in sand.

Most scorpion species reproduce sexually; during mating, the male and female scorpions use their pedipalps to clasp onto each other in a distinctive dance-like movement. Some female scorpions birth live young while others carry eggs in their body until they hatch. In some scorpion species, males aren't needed as the females can produce up to thousands of eggs. This reproductive process is called parthenogenesis. The lifespan of scorpions is up to 20 years depending on their species.

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