Page 1 of 4 | text and photos by David H. Desoer, additional photos by Tamara Maki
It is entirely possible to acquire a scorpion, place it into a properly designed enclosure and never touch it again. Maintenance of the enclosure can be carried out with implements, such as long-handled spoons and forceps, and the scorpion can easily live out its entire life without human contact. While this sort of hands-off approach is feasible and does have a great deal of merit, most keepers interact more than this with their charges. Whether it is to move them to another enclosure, inspect them, pose them for the perfect photograph, slip them under a microscope or show them more clearly to others, handling is an integral part of the life of most scorpion enthusiasts. This article will outline a number of handling techniques used in scorpion husbandry. It should be noted that by "handling" I do not just mean the manipulation of scorpions by hand (which I will refer to as "free handling"), but any method by which a scorpion is restrained or relocated.
As with any skill, the handling of scorpions takes time to learn. It is important to attempt only those techniques for which the handler has adequate experience. Regardless of experience, the ability of a handler to effectively execute these techniques depends on his or her mental and physical condition. The handling of scorpions should not be attempted when tired, intoxicated, emotionally unstable or otherwise distracted. A steady hand is also required for many techniques and thus activities like vigorous exercise can be detrimental just prior to handling scorpions. These precautions are not only for the safety of the handler when specimens with medically-significant venom are inVolved, but also for the safety of the scorpions.
Before attempting to handle any scorpion, it is important to take a moment to evaluate the situation and determine an approach that will effectively and safely achieve the desired results. In a captive situation, it is important to consider the nature of the area and block off any areas into which an errant scorpion could escape. It is also important to assemble all of the required equipment in advance, including some appropriately sized containers to restrict the movements of an escaping scorpion. Once all of the preparations have been made, the scorpion should be located within the enclosure. In enclosures with multiple specimens it is important to determine the location of any other scorpions that may come within stinging range. A black [ultraviolet] light is extremely valuable for locating scorpions as it causes them to fluoresce and can even reveal the location of a very well camouflaged specimen.
FIG 1 illustrates good setup in which to manipulate scorpions. The table is clear of everything except for the handling equipment and enclosure. Two sets of equipment are present, in case the scorpion gets away from the handler and becomes defensive near one set.
In the field, the situation is somewhat different. Although prevention of escape is not a necessity, the handler interested in reliably catching specimens will take many of the same precautions as if working with captive scorpions. Entrances to burrows or other inaccessible locations should be blocked off and the area should be scanned for more scorpions and other dangers before becoming focused on the intended target.
Cupping is one of the safest ways of moving a scorpion both for the handler and for the scorpion. The technique consists of placing the scorpion inside of a small container, or cup, which is used to transport it to the new location. There are several variations on the theme, the simplest of which is simply using an implement to usher a scorpion into a container that has been placed on its side. A lid may then be employed to keep the scorpion in. Alternately, if the container is deep and smooth enough, it may simply be moved to an upright position so that the scorpion cannot climb out. For dangerously venomous species, the manipulation of the cup should be carried out entirely with forceps, since holding the container could put you within range of the scorpion's sting. Be aware that many scorpions will be hesitant to walk into a cup, due to the smooth and unfamiliar texture. A scorpion that is readily guided to the lip of the cup may need to be pushed into the cup once it makes contact with some of its legs.
FIG 2 illustrates that easiest way to cup a relatively cooperative scorpion is simply to usher it to the lip of the cup and then push it in.