As summer tries to crawl its way into spring, out scuttle those stinging arachnids from their winter’s hibernation. They’re ready for food, water and love — and for the next six months, they’ll reside in East Valley garages, lumber piles, towels and beds.
The scorpions are back. Pest control experts are out in full force caulking cracks and spraying baseboards with insecticide. For a handsome fee, they’ll appease their customer’s fears about the eight-legged invaders. But much of what we think about scorpions is myth.
FACT OR FICTION
Myth: My home could become infested with scorpions.
Truth: Scorpions don’t nest. The most you’d see at a time is four, maybe five, according to Andy Baldwin of Mesa Community College’s life sciences department. And that’s just the bark scorpion, which is more tolerant of living with other scorpions and is the only one of the East Valley’s three species common around people.
Scorpions are territorial, explained Paula Swanson, reptile manager of the Phoenix Zoo. The giant hairy scorpion likes to live in undisturbed wilderness. The striped tail scorpion may been seen around cities, she said, but each might prefer its own garage.
Myth: Pesticides are effective against scorpions.
Truth: Scorpions know how to avoid chemicals unsafe to them, Baldwin said.
“Within any population you’ll get individuals who’ll get sick and die, but the majority will just ignore (the chemicals),” he said.
He added that scorpions have been on Earth in essentially the same form for 450 million years.
“That’s kind of arrogant, if people think we’re going to invent a chemical that wipes them out,” he said. Scientists have guessed that only two species could survive nuclear fallout: cockroaches and scorpions.
Myth: Small scorpions are more dangerous than large scorpions.
Truth: The strength of a scorpion’s venom has nothing to do with its body size, Baldwin said. Instead, it has to do with the pincher size.
Scorpions with large claws use their claw muscles to crush their prey. Scorpions with small pinchers have to rely on their venom to kill.
Myth: Scorpion stings are always dangerous.
Truth: The average adult doesn’t have to worry much about scorpion stings, experts say.
The poison control center at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center gets thousands of calls each year requesting information about scorpions, said Dr. Michelle Ruha, a toxicologist at the center. Only a small fraction — maybe 5 percent — actually need medical care, she said, and it’s usually only children younger than 4. Ruha said the center has only seen one death from a scorpion sting since the 1960s.
THE YOUNG AND THE STUNG
If a child is stung, symptoms range from pain and leg and arm jerking to drooling and uncoordinated eye movements.
Ruha advised parents who see serious symptoms to call poison control, whose experts can advise them about what care is needed.
A few hospitals now carry an investigational anti-venom, which appears to control symptoms within a few hours, Ruha said. Otherwise, the hospital provides supportive care, including breathing machines, sedatives and pain medication. Without anti-venom, symptoms can last up to 24 hours, Ruha said.
As the weather warms, the number of scorpion sting patients increases. Ruha said the Phoenix Children’s Hospital sees about 10 patients each month during the summer months, but only one or two per month in the winter.
Though infestations are rare and stings typically mild, scorpions still aren’t people’s definition of good company.
The best way to deter the nocturnal nuisances is to make your home less attractive to them.
Baldwin said that homeowners unwittingly create oases for the pests. In the summer’s heat, scorpions are attracted to swimming pools, sprinklers and lush grass.
Lumber and junk piles in yards and garages make perfect hiding spots for their dormant days. “It’s like putting out a bird feeder, a bird bath and bird houses, and then complaining that you have birds,” Baldwin said.
To lessen the allure, blend your landscaping to the natural environment, he suggested.
For Gilbert resident Bina McConville, keeping scorpions out is extra important. The mother of two said she saw five bark scorpions in two weeks at her last home in Chandler because new construction had disturbed their habitat. To protect her toddlers, she asked scorpion specialist Chris O’Brien to seal her previous home.
On Friday, she invited O’Brien of Knock ’M Out Pest Control — Scorpion Division to her new home in Gilbert to repeat the job.
He spent the day caulking cracks, foaming and taping holes, weatherstripping doors and adding screens behind vents. The self-taught sealer said his company’s been scorpion-proofing East Valley homes for four years, completing about three or four homes each week. “If they made houses out of glass, I’d be out of business,” O’Brien said. But until then, he’ll continue giving families peace of mind.
IF YOU GET STUNG
Call the poison control center at (800) 222-1222. If it’s not urgent, e-mail email@example.com
PROTECT YOURSELF AT HOME
• Remove piles of trash, unused lumber and boxes from in and around the home. Wear leather gloves.
• Examine and shake clothing and other items taken from closets or storage areas before use
• Shake out shoes or slippers before they are worn, and check beds before they are used
• Shake out damp towels, washcloths and dishrags before use
• Caulk openings around pipes and other conduits and eliminate cracks around foundations, doors and windows
• Caulk and seal from the inside (scorpions may be in the walls)
• Wear shoes when walking at night
• Protect infants and children from scorpions at night by placing the legs of their cribs or beds into clean widemouthed glass jars and moving the crib or bed away from the wall. Scorpions cannot climb clean glass.
• If you see a scorpion, don’t touch it. Capture it in a glass jar or plastic container and put it outside.
• If stung, take acetaminophen for the pain.
• When camping, shake out sleeping bags, clothes and anything else that has been in contact with the ground.
• When hiking, avoid scorpions. They aren’t aggressive, but will sting in self-defense.