Everyone thinks the Baja California bark scorpion is more dangerous than it really is—and that’s the way hobbyists like it.

Text by Charlene Bobis
Photos by Jeffrey C. Lim

“People will think you’re either brave or crazy if you have a Centruroides exilicauda or Baja California bark scorpion as a pet, because at first glance, those who are familiar with scorpions will think it’s an Arizona bark scorpion. It’s like having a really good replica of a Glock 9. People will think it’s real but it isn’t; it’s just a toy gun. This quality, I think, makes the Baja California bark scorpion fascinating and different from other bark scorpions,” says John Chua, whose specimens you see on these pages.

Why is the Arizona Bark Scorpion so Scary?

The Arizona Bark Scorpion’s venom can kill, though fatal stings are rare. This can be attributed to how hobbyists have better educated themselves on how to handle scorpions in general, and their respect for the creature. Hence, the Baja California Bark Scorpion, which looks like the Arizona Bark Scorpion, can be scary to those who know about the latter but not about how the former is a different species.

The Baja California bark scorpion is named after the American state where it is found. Yes, John explains, it’s related to the deadlier Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus); in fact, they were believed in the 1980s to be the same species. It was in 2004 that differences in venom toxicity were recorded, and DNA analysis showed that the two were separate species.

In general, the 41 species (including 24 subspecies) of bark scorpions are endemic to North America, Central America, and the northern parts of South America and the West Indies. Ranging in size from 1.5 to 3 inches, their preferred environments range from deserts to moist forests, where they like to hide under leaves, loosened bark, the crevices of trees, or any place else that gives them cover, notes the Scorpion Picture Guide.

They have slender tails just 1/16 inch wide, and their bodies are yellowish, sans any other markings. Bark scorpions are quite mobile and can move very fast.

While they can climb trees and prefer not to burrow, they make their homes under tree bark, in palm trees, and in the crevices of rocky cliffs. Its climbing ability and slender build (which allows it to slither into cracks as tiny as the width of its tail) make it the most likely type to enter homes; it is attracted by moisture.

Unlike its geographical neighbor, the Baja California bark scorpion is not considered as dangerous as the Arizona bark scorpion, John notes. Its looks can go against the Baja California bark scorpion, though; he adds, “People mistake them for Arizona bark scorpions and they’re as dangerous, venom-wise, but they aren’t; they have a nasty sting and if you’re stung, you may wish you were dead as the pain can last for some time. But they’re not as medically significant as the latter.”

In addition to the creature looking more dangerous than it actually is, their color also impresses hobbyists like John. “The bark scorpion is dark yellow and light brown, almost gold-ish. It’s quite unique,” he remarks.

The Sting’s the Thing

Contrary to how they are portrayed in popular movies and other media, John explains that scorpions do not go around looking to sting everything in their path. They tend to be non-aggressive, skittish, and wary. Many stings are the result of accidental contact, such as the victim stepping on the scorpion. But inexperienced handling of scorpions can also result in the same disastrous result.

Also, scorpion venom is used for quick kills or immobilization of prey, and they can control how much venom they inject when they sting. It does not make evolutionary sense for a scorpion to deplete all its venom in a single sting, as this will leave it defenseless for days. There is even such a thing as a “dry sting,” in which no venom is injected. Nonetheless, it is best to avoid getting stung in the first place, he warns.

Care and Feeding

In general, scorpions are easy to care for; unlike other pets, they can go without food and water for quite some time. “Only, with bark scorpions, misting twice per week is a must. Feed them twice per week, and be sure to take out leftover food to avoid encouraging parasites to live in their enclosures, and you’re done,” says John.

Experts recommend keeping it in a 10-gallon tank topped by a screen that can be locked, to guard against escapes. Sand mixed with coco peat makes a good substrate for its home, says John, and the recommendation for the depth of the substrate is 3-4 inches. Be sure to give it a hide and shade, he adds; a heating pad under the substrate on one end of the tank is also a good idea, experts say. Don’t forget to add a shallow water dish.

He recommends that you get a soft pair of tongs, about 10 inches long, and use this for giving the Baja California Bark scorpion its food—such as crickets and other gut-loaded insects—and for routine maintenance chores in its habitat. John strongly warns keepers not to feed the creature any small animal that is bigger and stronger; this may only stress your Baja California Bark Scorpion out. So, no rats or chicks!

“When feeding it live pray, stick to superworms, crickets, and roaches; you’ll do just fine,” John explains. “The biggest challenge in keeping one is to not to get stung or have anybody stung by it.”

It tends to be skittish, he warns, and John does not recommend that you feed it or do maintenance work on its habitat when it’s “drunk” or sleepy. “Always know where it is when you feed it or maintain its habitat,” he cautions. “Do not get tempted to handle it too often.”

How do you know when yours is healthy, then? It’s easy to see, John explains; their color should be radiant, and they should move quickly when startled.

As for other health concerns, the growth of fungus can be a problem, but regularly inspecting your Baja California bark scorpion will tell you if it needs to be acted on. Use an old, soft toothbruth, a water spray, and tweezers for the job; this is where the tongs he mentioned earlier come in handy. “Be confident when you handle them,” he says. “If you panic, that’s one step closer to getting stung.”

Another health concern is overfeeding the Baja California bark scorpion. “An obese scorpion is not a healthy scorpion!” John warns. Otherwise, they are relatively easy to care for.

Is a Baja California Bark Scorpion for Me?

John mentions that there is a certain challenge to caring for the Baja California bark scorpion. “A hobbyist who chooses to care for scorpions under the family Buthidea has to be of sound mind and very responsible. This pet is not for everybody, unlike, say, forest scorpions whose venom is level 1 (like bee stings or mosquito bites). But for buthids, their sting packs a painful punch! So safety first is a must. I’d recommend you start with a forest scorpion, but if you feel you’re responsible enough, go ahead.”

Did you know?

Scorpion venom has uses in various types of medical research for humans, and studying it has led to the creation of antibiotics and even cancer treatments.

Resources:
•http://www.arizonensis.org/scorpion_myths.html
•http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+8064
•http://www.scorpionpictureguide.com/scorpions/bark-scorpions-care/

This appeared as “The Best of Wrong Impressions” in Animal Scene’s September 2015 issue.