Parabuthus scorpions at Erongo province

Parabuthus scorpions are commonplace at Erongo province in Namibia. The area itself is characterized by a rugged and arid landscape with rocky outcroppings, mountains, and canyons. Erongo is known for its unique geology, including red sandstone formations and granite mountains.

This area is home to several species of scorpions. Some of the species found in the area include the Namib Desert Golden Scorpion (Parabuthus transvaalicus), the Yellow thick-tailed Scorpion (Parabuthus villosus) and the Desert thick-tailed Scorpion (Parabuthus granulatus). These species are known for their venomous stings and typically live in rocky or sandy habitats.

During our stay at a secluded campsite in Erongo province, we did not care much about dangerous critters. We were completely alone there and overwhelmed by the gorgeous landscape around us. And it was also too hot for snakes laying around during daytime. What we did not expect however, was the density of Parabuthus scorpions we spotted after dark.

Scorpion fluorescence

Scorpions fluoresce under UV light in the range between 320 – 565 nm. Reason for this characteristic is hotly discussed and still not clear. See this link and that link as interesting points of discussion. But newly molted scorpions do not fluoresce until the cuticle (exoskeleton) hardens. One thought of explanation is that a molecule layer within the cuticle (‘hyaline layer’) will be aggravated by UV light and will die off after some time. Therefore, if a scorpion will be shined on permanently with UV light, this layer within the cuticle would mould away over a long period of time.

Symbolic picture taken from an Alibaba commercial website.

In order to detect scorpions, commercial Black light torches are on the market with either 365nm- or 395nm wave length of UV light. We used a combined White LED & 395nm torch for spotting scorpions during night and being able to use the same torch conventionally.

When walking at dawn 100 m from our tent to the shower & toilet area, we encountered four Parabuthus scorpions directly on the footpath. Without UV light, we would not have spotted them. Encountered scorpions were all from the same species and with high likelihood Parabuthus villosus. They were typical morphs, but unfortunately, we did not take pictures under White light.

Yellow thick-tailed scorpion

Color morphs of the Yellow thick-tailed scorpion (Parabuthus villosus); Graph by: Yamakuzi, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Parabuthus villosus, are relatively large in size, with males reaching up to 10 cm / 4’’ and females up to 18 cm / 7’’ in length. They have a thick, heavy tail, which is where they get their common name from. And their venomous sting will cause severe pain and, in specific cases, even death. P. villosus are burrowing scorpions and are found under rocks and in crevices. As one of very few scorpion species, they are also diurnal and hunting beetles and other prey during daytime. But they are most active at dawn and early hours of night. In hindsight, we were lucky to have seen them. They are beautiful scorpions and fill their niche in the ecosystem where man is the intruder in their environment.

Medical treatment of Parabuthus stings

When walking around in Erongo nature after dark, it is imperative to use a white flashlight and repeatedly check with UV-light for Parabuthus scorpions on the way. Not doing so and wearing flip-flops or open sandals could end up in a very, very painful experience.

There is no specific anti-venom for stings from Parabuthus scorpions. However, general scorpion antivenom that have been developed for stings from other species of scorpions may be used.

Treatment for a Parabuthus sting typically includes pain relief and symptom management, such as the use of ice to help reduce pain and swelling and administering of antihistamines and steroids to reduce inflammation. In some cases, additional treatment, such as oxygen therapy, may be necessary for more severe symptoms. If stung by a scorpion, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. This is particularly important if there are severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, muscle spasms, or convulsions.

Lessons learned from Parabuthus scorpions at Erongo:

  • Erongo province in Namibia is rich in Parabuthus scorpion numbers and -species.
  • Under 395nm UV light, scorpions can be seen fluorescing from up to 15 meters.
  • Wearing flip-flops or open sandals after dawn and not using a UV torch is highly discouraged.
  • There is no specific anti-venom for Parabuthus stings available, but treatment includes pain relief and symptom management.