All Sorts of Stings: Scorpions

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 1.43.45 PMThe Southwest is home to over 30 species of scorpions, but only one is considered life-threatening. Like many spiders, scorpions hide by day. At night, they prowl the desert floor looking for insects to eat. Their crustacean-like pincers are designed to hold and tear apart their prey.

Scorpions sting with the tip of their “tail,” which is actually the hindmost segments of their abdomen. Victims of scorpion stings often describe the pain as similar to that caused by a honeybee. This pain, along with local redness and swelling are usually the only symptoms of a scorpion sting.

The Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides exilicauda) is the only species of scorpion in the U.S. considered a serious threat to humans. It lives primarily in Arizona, but its range extends into southeastern Utah and California.

This straw-colored scorpion looks delicate, with its slender tail and pincers. Its body is small–barely one and a half inches long at most. These features make it easy to distinguish from its larger, beefier, and mostly harmless cousins.

The bark scorpion is one of the only scorpions that prefers to climb. It can often be found clinging to tree branches, the underside of stones, or rocky faces. They also display negative geotaxis–meaning they prefer to orient themselves upside down. As a result, people are often stung when they pick up an object and unwittingly press against a scorpion clinging to the underside.

The sting of a bark scorpion is described as feeling like being stabbed with a hot poker, followed by numbness or an “electric” tingling sensation. Lightly tapping on the site causes excruciating pain.

First aid for any other scorpion sting should include cleaning the wound with antiseptic. Cooling the sting site with ice or water helps alleviate pain, and gives the body more time to break down and metabolize the venom. Keep the victim calm and provide reassurance, since panic and activity will only speed up the venom’s spread. If the offending insect was a bark scorpion, other symptoms may include profuse sweating, blurred vision, jerky muscle movements, and difficulty breathing or swallowing. If any of these signs show up, get the victim to a medical facility as soon as possible. Antivenom is available in most areas inhabited by scorpions.

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