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Our Arizona Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion: from Pest to Pet


I never have liked scorpions. Even in my childhood weird-insect-pet days, when I had black widow spiders and earthworms and centipedes and lots of praying mantises, all in separate bug jars, I didn't appreciate scorpions. They've always struck me as somewhat malevolent, truth be told: the aggressive way they lift those lobster claws up while coiling that nasty pincer-tail over their backs, or the unwelcome habit they have of locating themselves in that pair of jeans you left on the closet floor last night because you were going to wear them to do chores in the morning. I've heard the stories of the awful things scorpions do to the unwitting victim in the comfort of their own bedroom or while landscaping the yard. Scorpions have always made me recoil -- just before I pick up the nearest blunt object to smash them with.

I live in the desert. Not only do I live in the desert, but I live in a relatively rural area, where only one house separates me from the vast Tonto National Forest. For those of you who do not live in the desert, let me say right up front that the Tonto is probably not like the forest that immediately comes to your mind's eye. The part of the forest near me is desert. There are no pine trees nearby. There are rocks and mesquite trees and cactus, and just about everything stings, slithers, stabs, or bites. The scorpion fits right in.

The scorpion isn't satisfied with all that rocky, rugged terrain. Like the coyote, it is undaunted by houses and our uniquely-human idea of civilization. The scorpion, like that wacky cousin who shows up at odd hours wearing his Hooters ball cap, doesn't realize when he's not welcome. He hangs out on walls, in shoes, and -- while waddling lobster-like along the floor --he's just waiting to prey upon you.

At my previous homes, in closer proximity to the city, I'd see scorpions occasionally. Then I moved farther out. Suddenly, scorpions were ubiquitous. One particularly close call I had was when I'd just washed one of my horses after a ride, and I picked up his front foot to check for rocks. There, perfectly intact in the v-shaped crevice in his hoof called the "frog," was a small blonde scorpion, along for the ride. I dropped the horse's foot, grabbed a rock, and smashed that scorpion into a paste.

Scorpions would turn up on my bedspread, on the carpet, and under every rock. At night I'd take the black-light around, just as my dad would do decades ago, and watch how the desert floor fluoresced green with movement -- scorpions. The thing about these scorpions is you couldn't just spray them and watch them immediately succumb to Raid; no, you had to smash them. They're tough little beggars, too -- you couldn't just smash them once. You had to do an entire scorpion-smashing dance on them. It was a scorpion one-step.

They're everywhere, here at our new home. They may not be under every rock, but that's only because there's probably two of them beneath the next rock. They hang out beneath the tarps that cover the hay; they enjoy the shavings at the barn. Most of all, they love being under the water troughs for the horses. That's all well and good until I need to dump out a water trough so I can clean it. Then they're far too close for comfort.

An unlikely pet

An unlikely pet

Meet Uncle Krabby.

At the height of summer this year, I was smashing scorpions by the six-pack every day. There was an inexhaustible supply. One morning I turned over a trough and there, boldly confronting me, was the largest scorpion I'd ever seen. I immediately tried to smash him beneath a large rock -- but he ambled away, clearly annoyed. His sheer bulk impressed me; not counting his tail, he was well over three inches long. His claw-span was at least two inches. He was an impressive, unwanted arthropod.

For whatever reason, after decades of nearly subconscious scorpion-smashing, I stopped with the rock still in my hand and admired him. Then I ran to the shed and grabbed a plastic bucket to capture this huge beauty in. I thought I'd show him to my husband before smashing him thoroughly -- the scorpion, not my husband.

I put some sand in the bottom of a large plastic food tub, stuck an aloe vera plant in the center in mocking tribute to the plastic plants so often used in terrariums, and dumped the scorpion inside. I counted his arms and legs and pincers; all were intact. He had survived my attempted smashing unscathed. He ambled about restlessly.

When my husband arrived home, he looked in the plastic tub with clear disinterest. "What's this?" he asked. "Scorpion," I said. "Hadrurus Arizonensis, to be exact -- an Arizona Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion. What should we name him?"

"Uncle Krabby," he said, and walked away, bored. But that night, I caught Krabby some food, and my husband was right there, intrigued, watching the creature snatch the cockroach, sting it, and then eat it without hesitation. From that night on, my husband went on nightly forays to catch food for Krabby. (Desert Hairy Scorpions don't require that much food -- they only require food about every other week. But don't bother telling that to my other half. The day's work is not done until Krabby has been fed.)

Recently, with the cooler weather having arrived, crickets and roaches became hard to find. My husband announced we needed to go to PetsMart. Why? He wanted to buy a box of crickets for Krabby. The irony was not lost on me: normal people pay exterminators to kill the scorpions on their properties. Normal people want the exterminators to kill off all the crickets, too. What do we do? We pay PetsMart for crickets to feed to our scorpion.

I asked him why we'd bother buying crickets -- heck, if the scorpion succumbed, we'd just catch another. He gave me a wounded look. "That's Uncle Krabby," he said, in a tone of reverence. "Look, if he gets too hungry we can just smash him," I said. By afternoon, we were driving home with a small box of crickets in hand. Uncle Krabby must be fed!

One afternoon, my spouse pointed out to me all the great attributes about our scorpion: he doesn't shed, eats bugs, and you don't need to get up in the middle of the night to let him out. If he dies, you can chuck him over the fence. He doesn't need veterinary care, and he won't bark. Until recently, it didn't cost anything to feed him. Still, that $3.00 box of crickets is less than I pay for one can of premium dog food for the furbutts. Krabby is economical.

From Pest to Pet.

I have to admit that I've become fond of ol' Krabby. Much to my surprise, he no longer looks so forbidding. Whereas at one time I thought there was nothing so sinister as a scorpion, now they are merely interesting looking. I now realize he doesn't want to hunt me down and sting me in my vulnerable areas; he just wants to be left alone to eat his crickets.

I'm still not fond of the smaller scorpions. They're far more dangerous than Uncle Krabby. His species, the hadrurus, delivers a nasty sting -- about the same toxicity as a bee sting, if you're lucky enough to not be allergic -- but the smaller scorpions (and in the U.S. they're ALL smaller than the hadrurus Arizonensis) will hurt you far worse, and can kill you. The Giant Desert Hairy, though, likes to feast on those smaller scorpions, and as such is quite an ally. They grow to be about five and a half inches long and even feed on small lizards and snakes -- not to mention crickets at three bucks a box.

If you'd asked me two years ago if I'd ever let a scorpion live without smashing it, I would've denied it -- much less to have one in a terrarium in the house. Had you told me I'd pay for crickets, I'd think you're smoking crack. But Uncle Krabby has changed all that. He's managed to inure me to the sight of curled-up stinger and aggressively extended claws. I was even somewhat concerned the day he was lying, motionless, beneath the sand in his habitat -- until I realized he had merely dug out a slight burrow.

For Christmas, Krabby will get a roomy new habitat. He's been a good scorpion; Santa will remember. It's amazing how we can learn to appreciate a creature we once despised.

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It's too darned bad for those crickets, though.


Rob Ford on June 05, 2014:

Great story. What about putting those smaller bark scorps to good use by feeding then to Krabby?

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on June 03, 2014:

Hi, Emily! Oh, I love that -- "Steve and Possibly Brenda." Isn't it amazing how our opinions change when we watch these creatures close-up and see how they try to survive and build their own little desert lives? Now, if I could just evolve enough to sympathize with the crickets … somehow I still have an antipathy to them, irrational as it is!

Thanks for visiting and saying hello!

Best -- MJ

Fait Boum on June 03, 2014:

Ha, what a great read. I stumbled upon your post while googling for scorpion tanks & terrain. We, too, have a couple unsuspecting pets. I've always hated creepy crawly things. My boyfriend found several desert hairy scorpions at his old house & caught a couple for 'bug wars'. When he put two scorpions together, he thought they would fight. Instead, they became buddies - Steve & Possibly Brenda (we hope it's a female and we'll be able to see little desert hairy scorpion babies, but nothing yet, so the name retains "Possibly"). Somehow, after a year or so, these little guys warm my heart. It's fun to watch them when they're active & digging & working together. But I totally feel bad for the crickets too...


Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on April 08, 2014:

Mark, when I grew up in what was then the outskirts of the Phoenix metro area, those horned toads were ubiquitous. Soon they were gone -- and I believe it is because people destroyed the harvester ant (black ant) population (which control termites!) I'm so grateful that the horny toads, and the ants, are my neighbors here in our more rural area. Even when I don't see those horned toads, I see their droppings in the ant pile, and I know they're thriving.

Best -- MJ

Mark D. Stevens from Fort Worth, Texas on April 08, 2014:

I can't wait to read your horned toad story! I grew up in the 1960s (in Ft. Worth, where I live today) and horned toads were everywhere, but today they're all gone. I miss those guys!

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on April 07, 2014:

Hi, Mark -- and thank you for stopping by! I, too, kept horned toads as a child. I'd catch harvester ants on a stick and drop them into the terrarium to watch the horny toad snap them up greedily -- and I used to love watching them shuttle themselves under the sand with only their heads partly emerging. Coincidentally, I just recently took some photos of a regal horny toad here on the property for a hub I'm writing on those wonderful creatures! We are fortunate to have a healthy population of them and they fascinate me as much now as they did when I was a kid.

Thanks for commenting --

Best -- MJ

Mark D. Stevens from Fort Worth, Texas on April 07, 2014:

Marvelous! Takes me back to my childhood in Texas, when I caught a horned toad. His home was a small glass aquarium with about three inches of sand at the bottom, and I would get "meal worms" from the local pet store to feed it. Ah, those were the days.

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on January 29, 2014:

Ben, thanks so much for visiting and commenting! Oh yes, those bark scorpions are particular little creatures, aren't they? I believe that's why the Hadrurus are so popular among beginning scorpion-keepers, as they're very aggressive eaters -- not fickle at all. I'm glad I'm not alone in capturing and caring for the little devils. They really are fascinating.

I hope your Bark scorpion eats something soon. This time of year it wouldn't surprise me if they slow their intake down considerably, though.

Best, Mj

Ben on January 28, 2014:

Your story mirrors my own experience. Hated the things back at my old condo in the 85020 (aka "Ground Zero" for Bark scorpions in the Valley). Yet, after discovering on scuttling along the new carpet (an apparent stowaway) at my parents house last Fall, I ended up creating a little terrarium of my own (some dirt, some sandstone rocks, and a nice piece of tree bark for him/her/it to climb). Unfortunately, unlike your Krabby, mine just refuses to eat. I must've put no less than 6-7 different types of prey in there for him and bupkis. I'm hoping he eats eventually. He's gotta be starving.

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on May 10, 2013:

Alexadry, that's too funny! (The shoe crushing part, I mean.) I finally have my husband successfully trained to recognize the little devils -- although he always calls me over to confirm his identification efforts.

I do understand the desire to crush them beneath the feet, though -- they are really difficult to kill with regular old Raid. Just like the scorpions, it takes them forever to be affected. Scorpions won't eat them, either!

Adrienne Farricelli on May 10, 2013:

I found one in my living room a few months ago, and wasn't sure if it was a kissing bug or not, so I mailed it to a University and they called me back and confirmed it actually was. Yet, they said I wasn't supposed to crush it with my shoe as this made it difficult for them to identify what type it exactly was! I guess next time, I will have to find a better way to kill it!

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on May 10, 2013:

Thanks, Alexadry! You might find it interesting too that I've been trying to find out how common it is for dogs to be infected with the protozoa that the kissing bugs transmit -- and so far am finding very, very little familiarity with it on behalf of local veterinarians. I am very interested to see how it will unfold. I have a gut feeling that it is quite common and that it is misdiagnosed.

Adrienne Farricelli on May 10, 2013:

I'll stay tuned! Love your writing style and look forward to learning more about these scary critters.

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on April 28, 2013:

Alexadry, coincidentally enough, I am currently working on a hub about the very nasty kissing bug! I've just gotten my photos done but haven't finished the writing of it yet -- it is far worse than the scorpion, and few people recognize them! I'm glad you know to be aware of them; many don't. Stay tuned!

Thanks for your comment!

Adrienne Farricelli on April 28, 2013:

I live in a rural area of Arizona as well, and have found the occasional scorpion in my living room. I also walk with a black light and do an inspection of the bedroom before going to bed. I think I am getting a bit used to these critters, even though I still hate close encounters in my home. It was quite upsetting to recently learn that the desert southwest offers as well another worrisome critter that has haunted me till this day-- the "kissing bug." We recently purchased a canopy bed so we can sleep peacefully without worrying about being "kissed", bit or stung. I enjoyed reading about Uncle Crabby; good to hear he won't hurt as much as those bark scorpions and that he'll even eagerly eat them up!

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on November 21, 2012:

She scared the heck out of me, Nettlemere! I fed her ice cream to keep the swelling down. She was a wonderful dog -- very loving and nurturing. She deliberately stepped forward to get between me and the scorpion. On another occasion, she and her sister rescued my tiny Chihuahua that had swum out to deep water and started to struggle; and yet another time, my elderly mother and I were out walking, and I walked on ahead. My Dal gal wouldn't leave my mother's side. She was very intuitive ... and amazing.

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on November 21, 2012:

Wow - what a brave (or perhaps foolhardy!) dog. I bet your heart was in your mouth when that happen.

Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on November 21, 2012:

Thank you, Nettlemere. I do love our strange cast of characters in the desert but it would be a blessing to not have to worry about the dogs being stung or bitten! I had a very protective Dalmatian once who intervened when a scorpion crawled close by me -- she took a sting in th nose. Fortunately, she had no serious effects and lived to be 14.

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on November 21, 2012:

Interesting tale of your conversion from scorpion hater to scorpion keeper. We don't get much in the way of scorpions living wild in the UK. (there are odd populations of non native ones, but I've never seen one) On the whole I'm pretty glad that I don't have to worry about scorpions hiding in my clothes when I leave them on the floor!

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