You can find scorpions in almost every habitat in the world: tropical rain forest, savanna, desert, mountains and grasslands. They mostly hide out under rocks and logs to preserve energy and stay cool. Scorpions have multiple eyes like other arachnids, but they have poor eyesight. To make up for that, scorpions have special sensory feelers called pectines on the underside of their abdomens. Pectines can detect scent trails left by other scorpions as well as the surrounding air movement.
Although they're nocturnal, scorpions generally don't go out of their way to search for food. Instead, they are opportunistic feeders that wait for their food to come to them rather than wasting energy actively hunting. What types of food do they lay in wait for? Scorpions are carnivorous arachnids, like spiders, that primarily feed on other insects and even other scorpions.
A scorpion may display its cannibalistic tendencies even during mating rituals. After depositing a spermatophore outside of his body for the female to absorb through her genitalia, the male scorpion must crawl away quickly. If not, he may end up as his mate's dinner [source: Angier]. If this behavior sounds familiar, you're correct. Female black widow spiders are also known to prey on their male suitors.
But what happens when food doesn't come their way? With an adaption suited to their isolated living conditions, the scorpion possesses an incredible ability to slow its metabolism to a third of that in similarly-sized insects. During lean times, the scorpion's metabolic rate is the lowest of all invertebrates [source: Lighton et al]. At that pace, eating one insect can sustain a scorpion for a year. In order to turn down their metabolism, scorpions engage in minimal activity. In fact, in order to maintain that sluggish metabolic rate, many scorpions spend 92 to 97 percent of their lives completely inactive, sort of like an extensive state of hibernation [source: Leeming].
Even when the scorpion's body has slowed down to barely functioning, it can still quickly snap into action to catch a meal. But when a scorpion attacks its prey, it doesn't immediately gobble it up. Rather, it first excretes enzymes through its fangs, or chelicerae. Those enzymes then break down the insect matter before it enters the scorpion's body in an example of external digestion. That way, the scorpion maximizes the nutrients that it sucks out of its meal without squandering the energy involved in internal digestion.
This lethargic existence works out well for the scorpion, which is able to survive as long as 25 years in a variety of climates. That makes it the longest-living arachnid species. Yet, given its Spartan diet, a scorpion that reaches its peak age may enjoy just over a couple dozen meals in its lifetime.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Is an ancient sea scorpion the largest bug to live on Earth?
- How long can you go without food and water?
- Why would you take poison as medicine?
- How Spiders Work
- How Ticks Work
- Could platypus poison kill me?
- Are Komodo dragons' mouths deadlier than cobras' venom?
- How can someone die from drinking too much water?
- Can humans survive on air alone?
- How Desert Survival Works
More Great Links
- Angier, Natalie. "The Scorpion, Bizarre and Nasty, Recruits New Admirers." The New York Times. Nov. 27, 1990. (Oct. 10, 2008)http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE4DC1239F934A15752C1A966958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all
- "A taste for scorpion venom could be cancer's undoing." New Scientist. Oct. 2, 2008. (Oct. 10, 2008)http://www.newscientist.com/channel/health/mg20026764.400-a-taste-for-scorpion-venom-could-be-cancers-undoing.html
- Britt, Robert Roy. "Scorpion Venom Tested As Brain Cancer Treatment." LiveScience. June 27, 2006. (Oct. 10, 2008)http://www.livescience.com/health/060627_scorpion_venom.html
- Gouge, Dawn H.; Smith, Kirk A.; Olson, Carl; and Baker, Paul. "Scorpions." Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, University of Arizona. (Oct. 9, 2008)http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/insects/az1223/
- Handwerk, Brian. "Scorpions Thrive Where Least Expected." National Geographic News. June 24, 2003. (Oct. 10, 2008)http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/pf/51977422.html
- Hodgson, Erin W.; Lambert, Brooke A.; and Roe, Alan H. "Scorpions." Utah State University Extension and Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Laboratory. June 2008. (Oct. 10, 2008)http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/ENT-68-08.pdf
- Leerning, Jonathan. "Scorpions of South Africa." Struik. 2003. (Oct. 10, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=vQFEeohchVQC
- Lighton, John R.; Brownell, Philip H.; Joos, Barbara; and Turner, Robbin J. "Low Metabolic Rate in Scorpions: Implications for Population Biomass and Cannibalism." Journal of Experimental Biology. Jan. 21, 2001. (Oct. 10, 2008)http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/reprint/204/3/607.pdf
- Polis, Gary A. "The Biology of Scorpions." Standford University Press. 1990. (Oct. 10, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=6OqeAAAAIAAJ