Scorpions and scorpion stings

South Africa has 160 identified species of scorpions, and for most people this is probably not good news. Scorpions really are fascinating creatures; not only do they glow under an ultraviolet light, but they lived on earth more than 450 million years ago. Unfortunately, scorpions can be dangerous – worldwide there are around 800 deaths annually due to scorpion stings (excluding Mexico, which has over 1000 reported annual deaths), and in South Africa around 1-4 deaths.

Know Our Scorpions

There is only one rule when it comes to scorpions: If the scorpion has a thick tail and small pincers – it is venomous! The reason is simple: The prominent body parts are the main weapon. Scorpions with thick tails kill their prey with a venomous sting, while scorpions with a big pinchers catch their prey with it. (This does not mean that thin-tailed scorpions cannot sting – they can and it will hurt!)

Dangerous Scorpions of South Africa

The good news for all arachnophobes (yes, the fear of scorpions, arachnophobia, is the same as the fear of spiders, as both are arachnids) is that there is only one type of scorpion in South Africa that is really dangerous – the thick-tailed Parabuthus-genus. It can grow up to 11cm long and colour ranges from yellowish to brown-black. This scorpion is found all over South Africa. It likes to dig shallow burrows in sand or hard soil and can mostly be found under logs or rocks. They often wander into houses and can be quite aggressive. Parabuthus have neurotoxic venom and its sting can be regarded as potentially lethal. A scorpion is ready to sting when the tail with stinger is held over the head, but interesting enough Parabuthus can also stings sideways – so never try to pick it up with your fingers! As with all venomous encounters, some people are more at risk of serious complications: The elderly, the immune-compromised, allergic persons and small children.

The thick-tailed Parabuthus-genus

Scorpions and scorpion stings


Scorpions are nocturnal (meaning they wander around at night) – so wear footwear at night.
Be careful when lifting rocks and when collecting firewood.
Never handle scorpions with your bare hands.
Never sleep directly on the ground when you are camping.
Shake out footwear, clothes and bedding to make sure nothing crawled in.
Clear clutter around your house – scorpions love to hide under rubble.
If you have scorpions wandering in your house regularly, clear clutter from the floor, and shake out bedding before you get into bed at night.

When Someone Is Stung:

Many factors will determine the medical emergency of a scorpion sting: The depth of the sting, location of the sting site, and the species, size and degree of agitation of the scorpion. Persons with heart or respiratory problems are at greater risk, as well as the elderly, the immune compromised, allergic persons and small children. In case of envenomation, remember the following:
Keep calm. A scorpion sting does not mean instant death – but you should go to a hospital as soon as possible.
Try to identify the scorpion – does it have a thick tail or thin tail?
If the victim was stung by a thick-tailed scorpion, get some medical attention immediately. There is antivenom available for scorpion stings.
If the victim was stung by a thin-tailed scorpion, mild pain and local inflammation are probably the only ill-effects he will suffer.
Put ice or a cold compress on the sting site.
Give some paracetamol or aspirin for pain.
Clean the wound and bandage.
Victims must receive a tetanus shot to prevent infection.


Try to suck the venom out.
Use a tourniquet.
Give the victim alcohol, since it will mask the symptoms of the poison.
Never administer antivenom yourself – it must be done in hospital.

Have you and your children come into contact with these fearsome beasties? What did you do?
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