Emperor Scorpion, Pandinus
Since August 1997, I have had 12 mature specimens in my collection and 52 nymphs from 3 successful matings (number of offspring: 11, 22, and 19). I also had a large wild-caught, gravid female that produced 17 offspring after four months in captivity. Although the four original specimens, along with all of the captive-reared and all but six of the captive-bred offspring, have been passed on to friends and fellow enthusiasts as gifts, I still maintain eight large mature
females from my first (6)
and second (2) captive breedings and I have recently acquired three small,
wild-caught males from a local pet store. In my opinion, only
Hadogenes (Africa) and Heterometrus (Asia) can compare with the interest and beauty of
the large, robust scorpions of the genus Pandinus.
begin, let me state that even though the majority of
specimens of P.
imperator are non-aggressive, adapt
well to captivity, and seem reluctant to sting, I do not advocate or
endorse the handling of any scorpion species due to the possibility of
injury to the scorpion and/or the handler. Although no reports exist to
indicate that the venom of this species is medically significant to
humans, all specimens are capable of delivering powerful attacks with
their pedipalpal chela (claws) and painful multiple stings. The handling
of such animals should be undertaken as a personal choice made by each
individual enthusiast based upon his/her knowledge and understanding of
each individual specimen in their collection.
If you do decide to
attempt to handle your Emperor, your initial handling attempt should be
done in a quiet area with no disturbances to distract your attention.
Allow the scorpion to move freely into your outstretched hand and do not
block its movements while being handled. Keep your hands within several
inches of a soft, flat surface - in case your Emperor falls from your
hand. If you're handling your Emperor over a tabletop or similar hard
surface, place a folded towel or sheet over the area to provide a soft
surface in case your Emperor falls.
Male and female specimens
possess large, thick, granular pedipalpal chelae (claws) with a sparse
covering of sensory setae. Their large chelae are capable of delivering
painful attacks that may break the surface of the skin. In the majority of
specimens, the telson ("stinger") is brownish to brownish-red in
colouration with sparse setae on the external surface. Although most are
hesitant to sting, all are capable of delivering multiple stings when
annoyed. However, most specimens will choose to rely on their powerful
chelae to defend against perceived threats.
Male and female Pandinus imperator exhibit primitive social behaviour and several similarly sized specimens can be safely maintained in a communal set-up if the vivarium offers ample floor space, a moderate depth of substrate and multiple retreat options. Although rare, if you notice one specimen in the community is continuously attacking other members of the group then, remove that scorpion to a separate vivarium.
The following standard size glass
vivaria are recommended to maintain single and multiple specimens of
10-Gallon (37L) glass
vivaria - 20" x 10" x 12" (50 x 25 x 30 cm).
20-Gallon (74L) long glass
vivaria – 30" x 12" x 12" (75 x 30 x 30 cm).
40-Gallon (148L) breeder
glass vivaria – 36" x 18" x 16" (90 x 45 x 40 cm).
I prefer to use standard
plastic-framed lids with mesh-screen ventilation and two locking pegs for
my Emperor vivaria. I replace the mesh screen with a sheet of Plexiglas
(with numerous ventilation holes) to retain a higher humidity level.
As P. imperator is primarily found in hot humid climates throughout West Africa, a ventilated Plexiglas lid is useful in retaining a high degree of moisture and still allows a moderate rate of airflow in and out of the vivarium. A lid of this type is especially useful if your home is heated with a forced-air furnace which quickly decreases the air’s humidity. As with many tarantula species, high temperature/high humidity closed-environments with highly restricted airflow are stressful to specimens of P. imperator. In such stagnant environments, activity levels and feeding will decrease and the scorpion/s will confine themselves to their retreats or lay listless upon the substrate. Proper ventilation and airflow is important in maintaining these scorpions in an active and healthy condition.
Before set-up, the vivarium should be cleaned with warm water and liquid dish-detergent to remove residue, dust, etc. from the interior and allowed to air dry. While the vivarium dries, mix 70% premium grade topsoil with 30% peat in a bucket. This substrate mix provides good moisture retention as well as assisting in retarding the decomposition of prey remains due to the acidic nature of the peat. As you blend the substrate materials together, add water until the substrate becomes moist.
Place a 4" (10 cm) layer of substrate in the vivarium and firmly
pack it down, then add another 2" (5 cm) layer of loose substrate on top.
As the majority of specimens are tireless burrowers, the firmly packed
substrate will allow the scorpion/s to construct burrows through the
substrate without the burrows collapsing upon them.
Retreat options are many
including, slabs or tubes of cork bark, hollowed-out rotten tree limbs,
sections of PVC pipe, supported stone slabs, etc. I prefer to use several
sections of hollow, rotten tree limb and partially submerge them in the
substrate. This not only creates a more naturalistic look to the vivarium,
but also provides climbing surfaces for the scorpions and many small
hiding areas for nymphs after they've achieved their second moult and have
started developing their colouration. A flat piece of inverted cork bark
on top of the substrate is also necessary to provide a firm, flat surface
for the male scorpion to deposit his spermatophore when mating with the
Artificial or small living
plants with low light requirements can be added to the vivarium for
colour. Living plants are additional sources of humidity within the
captive environment, but require additional care and maintenance that may
be unappealing to enthusiasts that maintain moderate to large collections
of arachnofauna. If living plants are used in the vivarium, leave them in
their pots and use aquarium sealant to fix them to the bottom or wall of
the vivarium to prevent your scorpion being injured if it burrows beneath
the pot. The scorpion may unearth living plants that are planted directly
in the substrate during burrow construction, but if living plants are
desired, use a short section of cork-bark tube or PVC pipe to accommodate
the roots. Embed the section of cork bark or PVC pipe into the substrate,
add the plant and then add the substrate. This will protect the plant from
the burrowing activity of the scorpions. Artificial plants should be fixed
to the vivarium wall or bottom with aquarium sealant before adding the
substrate. However, remember that Emperor scorpions can and do climb. In
one vivarium, I had used a large piece of vertical cork bark against the
rear wall to provide a climbing surface for two young males and to make
the tank more aesthetically appealing. One day, I opened the lid to clean
the vivarium and met a very startled male Emperor that was nestled snugly
between the top of the cork bark and the vivarium lid!
After the interior of the
vivarium is completed, a water dish must be added. It is important that
the water bowl is not placed on top of the substrate as this could injure
the scorpion if it burrows under it. I prefer to use an 8-oz.
deli-container lid filled with substrate, inverted and fixed,
bottom-to-bottom, to a 16-oz. clear deli-container with aquarium sealant.
This makeshift water dish is roughly 6" high and extends from the vivarium
floor to the substrate’s surface providing a secure and stable water dish
for all burrowing species of scorpions.
Do not be surprised to
find your Emperor submerged in its water bowl, as this behaviour is not
uncommon. Make sure you also include a thin, flat rock in the water dish
to facilitate easy exit for your scorpion and live prey. The longest
period I've observed an Emperor scorpion remain submerged is a little over
Another useful item is an
adhesive strip-thermometer. Although the accuracy varies amongst
manufacturers (typically ±2-3º), these inexpensive thermometers will allow
you to have a general knowledge of the temperature within the vivarium.
After the addition of the thermometer, water dish and a light misting with
a water-spray bottle, place the lid on the vivarium and allow it to sit
until the temperature and humidity have built up. Now it's time to acquire
Choosing a healthy specimen
If you decide to acquire
your Emperor from a pet store, look for a larger active specimen rich in
colouration and robust in body size. Females are typically differentiated
from the male specimens by their greater body width and thicker
post-abdomens ("tail"). Do not choose specimens that appear lethargic or
are actively moving about the vivarium with their chelae ("claws") held
high over their bodies. Scorpions that carry their chelae in this
position, ceaselessly moving about the vivarium, are rarely healthy and
most die shortly after acquisition.
If you are acquiring specimens for a communal set-up, closely observe the behaviours of the scorpions in the pet store vivarium. Avoid acquiring specimens that appear to be "bullying" the other scorpions. Also, acquire specimens of similar size, as larger specimens tend to "bully" smaller members within the community. In communal set-ups, I prefer to introduce all members at the same time to allow them to acclimate to each others presence. Don't be surprised to discover that several specimens are sharing the same retreat. I have two mature females that have been living in the same section of hollow limb for over 1.5 years.
However, if your goal is
to breed your Emperor, then it is advisable to acquire a large, healthy,
female specimen of 6"+ (15 cm) and allow her to construct a secure
retreat. Feed and allow her to acclimatise to her new environment for
10-20 days before introducing the male.
Feeding and diet for Emperor scorpions is easy as most specimens are voracious and will readily accept offerings of insects, beef heart, anoles, house geckos, cockroaches, crayfish, shrimp, meal worms, earthworms, moths, butterflies, beetles, "pinkie" and "fuzzy" mice, etc. It is a rare Emperor that refuses a food offering! However, do not offer food for 5-7 days if your Emperor/s becomes so engorged as to make its movements cumbersome and slower than normal. A healthy Emperor scorpion should appear robust, but not bulbous and obese.
During crepuscular (dawn & dusk) and nocturnal (night) periods, Emperors will leave their retreats and actively explore their environment in search of prey and drinking water. Many will also choose these times to further excavate their burrows and interact with other members of the community.
In part II, courtship,
mating and the rearing of young in captivity will be discussed as well as
a look at how we in the hobby can contribute to the conservation of the
Emperor scorpion in the wild.
References & suggested reading
Gaban, D. 1997: Gaban's
Scorpion Tales: On Pandinus imperator
(C.L. Koch) & Pandinus cavimanus
(Pocock). Forum of the Amer. Tarantula
Soc. 6 (3): 75-78.