HERE COMES TROUBLE

A tiny scorpion that packs a heavy duty punch, the Indian Red Scorpion has arrived! Also known as Hottentotta tamalus, this hot scorpion is said to be the most lethal in the world. These deadly arthropods, related to spiders and mites, mostly live in India, eastern Pakistan, the lowlands of Nepal, and most recently from Sri Lanka, although sightings there remain rare. Its name is derived from the Tamil people of south-eastern India.

According to scorpion expert John Valentin Chua, who gave Animal Scene an interview regarding this species, it can grow up to three inches in length, and live from 3 to 5 years in captivity. Although known as the Indian red scorpion, this species’ coloration can range from dark orange or brightly red-brown to dull brown, with darker grey ridges (also known as carinae) and granulation.

When found in its natural habitat, Hottentotta tamulus is shy, nocturnal, and naturally preys on small invertebrates like cockroaches and other invertebrates, and even smaller vertebrates like lizards.

RED MEANS DANGER

Widely known to be among the most toxic scorpions in the world, the Indian red scorpion is of particular concern in its home areas of India and Nepal, and it occasionally causes human fatalities, because it sometimes lives in areas densely populated by people. Fatality rates of 8-40% have been reported, and most of this scorpion’s victims are children, who are often stung while running around barefoot.

People stung by this scorpion report nausea, skin discoloration, and heart problems. The venom affects the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems of its victims, eventually leading to pulmonary edema, which may be fatal, and scorpion antivenom has little effect, so antivenin is the specific treatment for scorpion envenomation or stings by this creature.

NOT FOR NOOBS

Because of the dangers it presents, John does not recommend Hottentotta tamulus for beginners, or for keepers with small children. “Only people with some experience in keeping scorpions can keep this species,” he says. “This scorpion in particular should never be handled by the keeper.” As with other scorpions, a good rule of thumb is “Look, don’t touch.” The ideal enclosure, according to John, should be glass or plastic escape-proof enclosures.

Fortunately, if proper safety procedures are followed, then the Indian red scorpion has simple requirements. “There’s no need for UV light,” explains John, “because this species prefers dark places, and no special care is needed compared to other scorpions.”

As with all scorpions, floor space is more important than height, and small objects like bark, driftwood, and rocks can give your shy scorpion some much-needed hiding spaces. John cautions against using heavy decorations that may crush your tiny but terrible pet.

HOT POTATO

John particularly admires Hottentotta tamulus for its striking red-orange color and their quick defensive posture. “They are fast predators,” he says, “and they mostly eat a variety of insects and small creatures like rats.”

He feeds his hot scorpions twice a week, usually gut-loaded scorpions and crickets, and once a week he performs maintenance by removing all the uneaten food, which may lead to too much humidity, which can in turn lead to mycosis (a fungal infection). He keeps his scorpions in a cocopeat substrate, with charcoal to repel mites.

John explains that ‘hot scorpion’ is not a reference to a scorpion’s temperature or its habitat, but rather to the fact that it is venomous—that is, too ‘hot’ to handle. Aside from the danger of getting stung, there is also the danger of losing or injuring your pet, or even killing it. Scorpions can fall off the sides of tables without hesitation, and this fall may injure or kill it. Again, hands off is a good policy with hot scorpions, particularly one as venomous as the Indian red scorpion.

PAIR OF STINGERS

Would-be breeders should be aware that Hottentotta tumulus is not a parthenogenic species of scorpion, unlike many others such as Hottentotta hottentotta or Tityus stigmurus. “You need a pair of Hottentotta tamulus in order to breed them,” he says.

And what does John have to say to stubborn amateur scorpion keepers who want to start their collections at the top of the hot scorpion charts? He stresses, “My advice for them is to avoid Hottentotta tamulus, because it’s way too dangerous for them. It’s too fast and too toxic.” For newbies, John recommends that they begin with some forest scorpions, like the various Heterometrus species.

 

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s May 2017 issue.