Did you know the Smoky Mountains are home to scorpions?
If you ask a Tennessean about scorpions in the Smoky Mountains, the answers usually range from just a confused look to “I think you’re in the wrong state.” The mere mention of the word “scorpion” is enough to invoke fear and brings to mind scenes of a dry, hot desert like surroundings with little crab-like creatures running around at night with stingers ready to strike. Most Smoky Mountain residents never imagined that one of nature’s best-kept secrets is lurking just under a stone or scurrying amid the forest ground cover.
Two species of scorpions reside in Tennessee, the Plain Eastern Stripeless Scorpion (Vaejovis carolinianus) and the Striped Scorpion (Centruroides vittatus). The Plain eastern stripeless scorpion is the only known native to the state. The striped scorpion, was accidentally introduced to Tennessee.
Contrary to popular belief scorpions are not insects. Instead, they are closely related to spiders and belong to the same class, Arachnida. At some point in the past, a common ancestry is shared. They also have similar traits. Scorpions are distinguished by a compact head called a “cephalothorax,” a broad segmented abdomen and a tail-like structure called a “telson.” The tail tip is enlarged and contains a venomous stinger used for self-defense or to subdue overactive prey. Scorpions can control the amount of venom injected. Venom is injected by thrusting the tail forward over the head and into the prey. The venom of scorpions found in Tennessee is similar to that of a honey bee sting. These scorpions are not like the scorpions found in the western United States.
These scorpions are very skittish and high-strung, and usually prefer to run from danger if given the chance. However, they are not shy about facing a potential threat if necessary, and will sting quite readily. While the sting is indeed painful (comparable to a bee or wasp sting), the effects are not long lasting and the site of the sting should be back to normal within 30 minutes to an hour. Unless a person just happens to be highly allergic to its venom, the sting of the stripeless scorpion is nothing to fear and is considered to be medically insignificant overall.
Scorpions are nocturnal hunters feeding at night and hiding during the day. They are most active at temperatures greater than 77 degrees and become sluggish in cold weather. Scorpions are cold blooded, which means they are the same temperature as their surrounding environment. They can also survive long periods of time without food. During the summer months, scorpions usually feed about once a week depending on food availability. They eat crickets, cockroaches, ants, beetles, mealworms, spiders, and butterflies, just to name a few things. These critters are usually found in the bathrooms, near the tubs and sinks. They enter the cabins looking for water and usually travel up the outside of the water pipes.
Scorpion sightings are very likely to increase with more and more natural habitat being consumed by development. If you should be lucky enough to encounter one, remember that they are very beneficial in controlling the insect population. Natural predators include birds, frogs, centipedes, spiders, lizards and snakes. Scorpions are very discreet creatures of the night and would prefer to stay hidden. Consider yourself very fortunate should you happen to see one of these fascinating creatures of the night.