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Namibia


Scorpions

wildlife of Namibia

The diverse and beautiful landscape of Namibia is captured with verdant and green land in certain areas, parched and dry in others. Occurring in the forests, grasslands, savannahs and deserts all over the country are some of the great survivors of the wildlife community - the secretive world of scorpions. Their legendary inactivity and nocturnal habits make them almost impossible to observe either easily or regularly.

Although Namibia hosts 59 species of these truly amazing creatures, their ongoing revision contains some uncertain areas of taxonomy and for the time being, where the classification is unclear, they have been omitted. Information given on this website includes information on the species which are most likely to be encountered on your holiday or self-drive tour.

Scorpions belong to the class Arachnida and to the order Scorpiones. Spiders, mites, ticks and sunspiders count amongst their relatives. They all have 8 segmented legs and exoskeletons, a tough horny skin that covers and protects their bodies. Most species of scorpion are carnivorous. There bodies can divided into 3 main areas; prosoma (head), mesosoma (body) and metasoma (tail). Of most interest is probably the sting (telson), which is at the end of the tail.

Venom is secreted by a pair of glands in the sting and is squeezed out of a duct, often replenished within hours. It controls the amount of venom injected. Scorpions with weak pincers and powerful tails capture their prey with their venom and those with thin tails and powerful pincers usually crush their victims and generally have weak venom. A scorpion's tail can only bend forwards, not backwards. Some species use it to dig burrows and others to produce sound.

All Namibian scorpions have light-sensitive eyes. Most species have 8, a single lens projecting an image onto the nerves at the back of the eye, providing the brain with a single image. Other common features of the scorpion include:

  • Mouthparts (chelicerae): Pincer-like appendages capable of ripping prey apart and self-grooming.
  • Legs: 4 pairs of legs, (8 in total), adapted for preferred habitats.
  • Pectines: Temperature sensors.
  • Pedipalps: Multi-purpose pincers used to grasp objects, in courtship, defence and capture of prey.
  • Booklungs: Page-like lungs (4 pairs) enabling some species to live in sealed-off burrows for extended periods.
  • Digestion: Food is chewed and mixed with saliva.
  • Touch: Highly evolved and acute.

Mating habits are fascinating. The scorpion 'dance' is unique. A male moves around in the summer on the lookout. Females never venture far from their burrow or rock crevice. During courtship, males may move the female around over 25m. Males then grasp the female pincer to pincer and lock mouthparts until the uptake of sperm, when they break away from each other. At times, females eat the male after mating and the rearing of young is left to the mother. Gestation differs with each species, ranging from 8 weeks to 18 months. Young scorpions are born alive, extremely unusual in the arachnid world. Some species do not produce eggs, others develop from eggs. Small litters of equal males and females up to 32, have been recorded. Shortly after birth, young scorpions climb onto the female's back for around 9 to 14 days until the female moults (instar) for the first time.

North-western, central and southern Namibia are scorpion-rich, especially rugged areas and mountain ranges. Scorpions are also one of the Namib Desert's most successful inhabitants. They are capable of eating huge amounts of food in one sitting and have a low metabolic rate. Their abdomen or 'mesosoma' swells according to the amount of food it consumes, enabling them to survive for extended periods without further nourishment. Some species can survive starvation for up to 12 months. The combination of feast, famine and low energy outputs, enable scorpions to adapt to the uncertain desert climate.

Most scorpions are nocturnal, although Parabuthus villosus, a big black Buthid, is active during the day and on overcast days. It is one of the largest buthid scorpions and is widespread throughout Namibia although absent from dune fields. Observations have been recorded of them drinking fog water, slowly gathering and drinking moisture with their claws from grass stems.

Scorpions are themselves preyed upon by birds such as hornbills and owls, frog, snakes, bats and many reptiles. Mongooses, meercats, honey badgers, bat-eared foxes and the Cape fox are also known to eat scorpions. There are 4 families of scorpion found in Namibia. They are:

  • BOTHURIDAE
  • BUTHIDAE
  • ISCHNURIDAE
  • SCORPIONIDAE

FAMILY BOTHURIDAE

GENUS LISPOSOMA

Little is known of the venomous capabilities of this genus. Both species have sturdy pedipalps, a pair of 3-segmented appendages arising from the head (prosoma), ending in the pincer. There are only 2 species of this family/genus found in Namibia. They are:

FAMILY BUTHIDAE

GENUS HOTTENTOTTA

The Genus Hottentotta are a medium-sized and sturdy scorpions with characteristic stout appendages. Generally males are slightly smaller and more slender than females, but their pincers are more bulbous. Other features include lyre-shaped markings on the carapace, which is the shield-like plate of exoskeleton that cover the top of the head; 3 longitudinal raised ridges on the tergites (a shield-like plate of exoskeleton on the upper side of the mid-body) and all species inflict a painful sting. There are 2 members of this genus found in Namibia. They are:

GENUS KARASBERGIA

Very little is know of this species other than they give off a painful sting but in small quantities, unlikely to be life-threatening. Often mistaken for juvenile Parabuthus, because of its small size.

There is just 1 member of this genus found in Namibia. It is:

GENUS PARABUTHUS

This genus represent the 'big guns' of Namibian scorpions, not only in size, most of them are between 70mm and 180mm in length, but they are also the most venomous in southern Africa. Rainfall is the deciding factor in their distribution. Parabuthus favour sandy regions receive less than 600mm of rain annually. Scorpion enthusiasts can also expect some colour variations across the distribution ranges, notably in tail segments.

Other features include smooth but weak pincers, large venom glands and all species are adapted for burrowing in open ground or under rocks or stones. Acceptable habitats are mainly restricted to sand dune systems of the Namib and Kalahari Deserts and rockier environments, depending on their digging appearance and appendages.

Other species of scorpion avoid the aggression shown by Parabuthus, especially P.villosus, the largest Buthidae in the world. Another unique characteristic of this genus is that they are active during daylight hours. As with other species of scorpions, females are larger than males. There are 8 members of this genus found in Namibia. They are:

GENUS UROPLECTES

A small but aggressive collection of scorpions, known to give off a painful sting. Although their venom is fairly potent, it is not usually life-threatening. Victims are often stung repeatedly. Species range from 24mm to 70mm in length. Their distribution range is the widest of all southern African scorpions. Micro habitats include trees, under stones and logs, as well as in sand at the base of bushes and tufts of grass.

Colouration is varied around the genus. Expect to observe a range from yellow to brown or red to green with other markings such as pigmentation and coloured bands. Other features include a distinctly shaped venom vesicle of the telson (sting) and females generally larger than males. Such a small species are very light on their claws, running fast with tails straight out. There are 3 members of this genus found in Namibia. They are:

FAMILY ISCHNURIDAE

GENUS HADOGENES

This genus is a group of large to very large scorpions commonly called rock scorpions. The species Hadogenes troglodytes is the longest scorpion in the world. Features include very large elongated pedipalps, small venom vesicle and a thin, elongated tail. Habitats are restricted to rocky outcrops and mountain ranges. Females are known to inhabit the same crack or crevice for years. So their bodies have a number of adaptations to help them survive in these environments. Their flattened legs and tails allow them to seek refuge in narrow cracks and crevices. A highly specialized tarsus allows for self-propulsion along and beneath hard, rocky surfaces, allowing them to walk unaided upside down on rocks, whilst clinging to smooth surfaces as they proceed. Male and female possess large and powerful pincers. The female is capable of disposing of the male during courtship. Lifespan of this genus can be up to 30 years. There are 2 members of this genus found in Namibia. They are:

FAMILY SCORPIONIDAE

GENUS OPISTOPHTHALMUS

The genus Opistophthalmus are more commonly known as burrowing scorpions. Features include beautiful and striking colours, large robust pincers and a thin tail, with a long and slender sting. A distinctive keel on the pincers assists in identification. Males are smaller than females. The ability to excavate burrows with their mouthparts is aided by their first 2 pairs of legs which drag away loose sand, soil or grit. Many species burrow under rocks and there is no particular style or shape to these burrows. The only influence appears to be underground obstructions such as tree roots and soil composition. All scorpions from this family live on the ground. Sit-and-wait is the proven modus operandi for catching insects, grabbing at prey as it wanders past the entrance to the burrow. Capture is usually by pincer as their venom is a mild strain, although larger prey get the full venomous treatment. Sound is produced by using their mouthparts. There are 7 members of this genus found in Namibia. They are:

 

Wildlife Namibia

Auas Safari Lodge

A privately owned game farm, with a good variety of wildlife just a short distance south of Windhoek.

Daan Viljoen Game Park

Newly built lodge in a small well stocked game reserve west of Windhoek

Dusternbrook Guest Farm

This lodge is very popular amongst those seeking leopard and cheetah viewing close to Windhoek. Regular feedings guarantee great sightings and photographic opportunities

Elisenheim Guest Farm

A relaxing lodge in the Eros Mountains (named after a local fruit and not the goddess of love) around 30km north of the city

Etango Ranch Guest Farm

Opposite the Windhoek International Airport, close enough to be extremely convenient but far enough away that planes are not a distraction. Great for those arriving late or leaving early, as cuts out the 45km drive from Windhoek/

Gocheganas Nature Reserve

One of Namibia's most popular spas with the added bonus of top game viewing.

Hochland Nest

A pleasant little lodge which offers fishing opportunities at the nearby Friedendau Dam

Hohewarte Guest Farm

Between Windhoek and the International Airport lies this interesting cattle & game farm

Immanuel Wilderness Lodge

family friendly, mid range lodge in rural location

Naankuse Lodge & Wildlife Sanctuary

a wildlife sanctuary offering quality accommodation in a tranquil environment

Okapuka Lodge

large lodge on a large well stocked game farm, lion feeding included

Ondekaremba

On a large private game farm close to the Windhoek International Airport, ideal for those not wanting to travel into Windhoek before or after their arrival in Namibia

Onjala Lodge

Offering horse riding, spa treatments and two swimming pools, this is a good family lodge

Out of Nature Country Lodge

Close to the B1 road around 30 kilometers south of the city this lodge offers a good one night stopover for wary travellers

River Crossing Lodge

a few kilometers east of Windhoek this lodge offers unsurpassed views of the city from a setting in the Auas Mountains

Windhoek Game Camp

20km north of the city, this tented lodge offers a quality self catering experience surrounded by the veld and wildlife

Self Catering Accommodation in Namibia