Scorpions of Georgia
Scorpions are creatures that have been on the earth for eons of time and they are well represented in the fossil record from many areas of the world. Scorpions, thus, are extremely successful creatures and they are also amazingly adapted for their role in ecology of planet Earth. Scorpions can be found from the most dry and hot deserts to the most wet rainforest and from fussorial habitats (below the surface of the ground) to the canopy of the rainforest, sometimes well over 100 feet over the forest floor. These creatures are awesomely adapted and very successful in life.
Basically, scorpions have a very easily recognized form, even though they may vary in size from less than an inch in length to monster like size of over 6 inches in length. They all look very similar with two pinchers at the anterior or fore part of the body, a head/body combination with 4 legs on each side (8 total) and a fairly long tail that may be held flat or curled behind the body or when defensive, will raise the tail high above the back. At the end of the tail is a bulbous shape that is tipped with a hooked shaped stinger. Scorpions are arachnids, thus have 8 legs and the head/body combination is called the “cephlathorax”, also a characteristic of spiders.
Scorpions are best known, unfortunately, for their sting. In some areas of the world, there are some extremely dangerous scorpions that can and do on occassion result in human fatalities from their stings. These creatures frequently get a lot of media attention and thus most people believe that all or most scorpions are deadly creatures. This is unfortunate as people often panic when finding a scorpion and in Geogia, many scorpions are found in Georgia residents, especially in sinks or bathtubs where once they fall in, they have difficulty in crawling out due to the slippery sides of porclein . Our native scorpions are fairly small with large ones only slightly over 1 inch in length. In Georgia, there are two species, both found in different regions of the state and to my knolwedge, there are no Georgia Counties where both species occur in the same county. The little uniformly colored southern devil scorpion is found in the Piedmont and Mountains of Central and North Georgia. The striped bark scorpion is found in coastal plain, sandy soil habitats and they favor habitats of long-leaf pine or slash pine. They also occur on many of Goergia’s barrier islands. Both species are illustrated in the following photographs as well as one scorpion, currently not known from Georgia but it is found in Florida Counties just south of the Valdosta area and thus may eventually be discovered in the southern tier of Georgia counties adjacent to Florida.
The two native Georgia species of scorpions. On the left is the striped scorpion of sandy soil habitats and on the right is the devil scorpion found in Central and Northern Georgia.
The devil scorpion (Vaejovis carolinianus). This is a common scorpion in many areas of Atlanta. They are found from Macon northward throughout all of North Georgia. This scorpion is very uniform in color.
The striped scorpion (Centruroides hentzi) is a sandhill / coastal plain species. They are occassionally found in homes and cabins but their favored habitat is under bark of either alive or dead long-leaf pines and slash pine. They can hide under bark that is quite flat to the tree and thus are not frequently seen by many Georgians. The 3 dotted stripes running down the back are charactersitic for this species. The two individuals above are females, told by the length of their tails.
Scorpions give live birth and the newborn scorpions are white. They are transported on the mother’s back for a period of time until their first molt. At this time, they turn brownish and look like minature adults. In my work, I have found that females produce anywhere from 8 to 25 young at a single birthing. Above are striped scorpions with their young.
The tail is terminated with a bulbous appendage that has a hooked stinger that faces forward when the tail is held defensively over the scorpions back. Any disturbance where the scorpion cannot escape or if sat upon or a person hand is placed on a scorpion, stings occur. Stings typically produce a burning pain but it is usually does not last long. During recent field work with this species, both myself and Dirk Stevenson have received stings by this species. The sting immediately burns but the pain is completely gone within a half an hour. This being said, any envenomation should be watched carefully as many people are hypersensitive to various venoms and those person may be health compromised very quickly due to a scorpion sting. For those persons, seek medical attention immediately!
The above image shows the two native Georgia scorpions as well as the big Florida Bark scorpion that may eventually be found in extreme South Georgia. Top: Devil Scorpion (Vaejovis carolinianus), Middle: Florida Bark Scorpion (Centruroides gracilis), Bottom: Striped Scorpion (Centruroides hentzi). These scorpions are alive and all were photographed in one picture thus the sizes are correct and all 3 specimens are adults of their species.
To put the size in perspective, the Florida Bark Scorpion is much large than the two native Georgia species. Here, a Florida bark scorpion in a resting pose with my index finger tip as size reference.
In closing, scorpions play a very important role in nature. They are predators that prey on large numbers of insects, including many they could easily become “pests”. Thus, scorpions are a form of natural pest control and in wild areas, scorpions should not be killed just becasue they are scorpions. They are not out there looking for people to sting but rather prefer to live a very cryptic life and most only venture out in search of food and / or mates during the hours of darkness.