Living with scorpions in the Southwest desert

Bark Scorpion

by Peter Bigfoot — 

There are three main types of scorpions in this region — the giant desert hairy scorpion, the rock scorpion and the bark scorpion. The giant desert hairy is the Hollywood-sized creature, about four inches long, and three times the size of the rock scorpion.

The rock scorpion looks similar to the giant except that it is not hairy and is much smaller. Both have their tails strung out behind them or up over their backs in the classic scorpion pose. These two scorpions are mostly found in the wild, wandering around in the dark, or hiding under rocks or brush in the daytime. All scorpions are most active in hot weather. Venomous bites are one of the biggest concerns for people living in the desert, and you are about to see why.

The focus of this article is the mature bark scorpion, which is about the same length as the rock scorpion, approximately two-and-a-half inches long, but only half the weight. The bark scorpion looks frail by comparison to the rock scorpion, but the power of its sting more than compensates for its lack of size. Bark scorpions are found mostly around homes and yards. They are active at night and hide in the daytime. They seem to like woodpiles and storage sheds the best and they are known to cling to the undersides of wood and objects, making us vulnerable when we lift these things.

Bark scorpions also are more likely to sleep in unattended clothing or towels in your house, and they can squeeze, undetected, into very small cracks and crevasses. At night they may be crawling on the floor, so it is best to wear something on your feet. Keep in mind that a scorpion could be hiding in your footwear as well — even under the straps of your sandals — so shaking out your shoes is a good idea if you live in scorpion territory.

The bark scorpions start out clinging to their mothers’ backs until they are big enough to venture out on their own. At that time they are about a half-inch long and nearly orange in color. As they grow larger, they get lighter in color and at full size they are a faded, orange-straw color.

Even more troublesome, the bark scorpion will often wrap its tail around to one side, making it difficult to recognize. To distinguish between the bark scorpion and the rock scorpion pay attention to their tails: the rock tail segments are short and thick compared to the much longer and thinner segments of the bark scorpion’s tail.

Avoid suffering from scorpion stings

The sting of the rock scorpion feels a bit like someone poking a lit cigarette into your skin. From my experience of living in the wild for nearly three decades and having been stung 28 times, while the sting of the rock scorpion is unpleasant, it remains localized. The pain, tingling and numbness, along with a little redness and swelling, will subside in a few hours, but the affected area may remain numb for a few days. The giant scorpion’s sting is about the same.

Desert Hairy Scorpion

The sting of the bark scorpion, however, starts out about the same and gets much worse. This poison does not stay localized. There is no redness or swelling but the classic tingling and numbness remain near the site of the bite. However, the poison spreads throughout the body, and so will the pain and suffering. The heart and lungs may feel threatened as the traveling poison moves into what I call “restless agitation.” At this point, the victims will hurt all over and cannot get comfortable no matter how they sit, stand or lie. The acute symptoms usually last 12 hours or more and then taper off for possibly up to 30 days.

Also, it makes a difference where the sting is located on the body. The worst places to get stung are where nerve endings are close to the skin, such as the hands and feet (the most likely places to get stung), and the armpits. If you get stung in a fleshy area, like a leg or your back, the symptoms seem to be greatly reduced. These types of bites will cause a twitching feeling, like a scorpion running under your skin. It is unpleasant, but there will be much less suffering than a sting to the hands or feet. If untreated, these symptoms usually last about 12 hours.

Natural remedies for stings

Experience has shown me that those who treat their bites with natural remedies will benefit greatly. The first treatment I discovered was a poultice made of freshly chewed-up cottonwood tree leaves. The leaves taste terrible, but they work. I have also used aspen tree leaves, prickly pear cactus and creosote bush leaves, mashed and mixed with mud.

My favorite remedy is made from an extract of the western mugwort plant and is available through Reevis Mountain Remedies ( While these remedies are simple, they also are very effective. “Trust in nature” has always been my motto.


Peter Bigfoot teaches native herbology and natural healing at Reevis Mountain School in Roosevelt, Ariz., and is the author of Natural Remedies for Bites and Stings. or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 3, June/July 2008.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Web Analytics