Whip Scorpions: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 23, 2023
4 min read

Coming across a whip scorpion for the first time can be a frightening experience. Although they look like true scorpions, they’re not actually scorpions and don’t possess a venomous sting. They are arachnids, a class that includes spiders, mites, and ticks, all of which are joint-legged invertebrate (lacking a spinal column) animals. If you’re wondering are whip scorpions dangerous and do whip scorpions bite, read on to learn the answers to these questions.

Whip scorpions are arachnids that belong to the order Thelyphonida. They are called "whip scorpions" because of their long, slender caudal appendage (at the rear end of the body) that resembles the handle of a whip, and the fact that they are closely related to scorpions.

Although they are called whip scorpions, they don’t possess the poison-filled stinger that’s common in scorpions, nor do they have the venomous bites of some spiders. These creatures resemble a cross between the two. Though they lack venom, they do have a defensive gland that releases a vinegar-like substance when threatened. That’s why they’re also called vinegaroons.

Whip scorpion appearance. The typical whip scorpion size is about five centimeters, which doesn’t include the caudal appendage.

Whip scorpions have eight eyes — one pair of median eyes at the front and two sets of three eyes on each lateral side. But their eyesight is weak. They depend on the long thin pair of front legs that serve as antennae and help them sense their surroundings. In addition to the long front appendages, the caudal appendage also acts as a sensory organ.

Whip scorpion lifecycle. A whip scorpion lifespan consists of three stages — egg, larval stage, and adult. They reach sexual maturity at three to four years, with males living for 10 years on average, while females can live for up to 20 years. Females lay between 35 to 68 eggs in each sac and once they hatch, the young ones stay with the mother inside the burrow until their first molt. Young whip scorpions can take as much as a year between each of the next three molts before they reach adulthood.

Whip scorpion diet. Whip scorpions are nocturnal predators and their main prey include soft-bodied insects like termites, cockroaches, and crickets. They crush their prey using their strong pedipalps. These pedipalps contain distinct teeth in the second segment, which help them bite and crush their prey.

The only whip scorpion found in the U.S. is the giant whip scorpion (Mastigoproctus giganteus giganteus), which is also called grampus in some regions. Although they look scary, they are relatively harmless and benign.

The giant whip scorpion can be found in Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Two other whip scorpion species — Mastigoproctus giganteus mexicanus and Mastigoproctus giganteus scabrosus — are common in neighboring Mexico but are not found in the U.S.

The natural habitats for these arachnids are tropical forests and subtropical regions. During the dry months, they spend most of their time underground and only venture out when it starts raining. They remain out of sight during the daytime by hiding in burrows dug with the help of their tough pedipalps (pincers). It’s common to find them under logs, boards, rotting wood, rocks, and other natural dark places, where they bide their time until night falls.

When threatened in their natural habitat, they quickly retreat into their burrows or spread their pedipalps to frighten their opponent. Whip scorpions can accurately spray acetic acid up to one foot, which is relatively harmless to humans, but can sting other creatures if it gets into their eyes and nostrils.

While they look frightening, whip scorpions are not known to cause problems to humans and pets if left alone. They’re not known to bite humans, and their bites are not venomous. Bothering whip scorpions could trigger their defense mechanisms and cause them to spray concentrated acetic acid, which is slightly more acidic than food-grade vinegar and can irritate your eyes and skin.

Whip scorpions release the acetic acid-laden spray through pores at the base of their pedipalps. The strong front appendages of whip scorpions can also bite humans, but are not considered harmful.

Acetic acid sprayed by whip scorpions is not dangerous and is most likely to cause minor irritation and leave a foul smell. You can wash the spray off your skin using soap and then rinse it with water. Make sure you don’t touch your eyes without washing your hands first. If a whip scorpion spray has directly entered your eyes, flush it out by splashing water in your eyes.

If you find a whip scorpion on your property, chances are the habitat is ideal for them and there’s a likelihood of finding more of them. But this is not necessarily a cause for concern, as these arachnids rid your surroundings of pests such as cockroaches. These creatures are highly sought-after pets, but usually don’t do well in captivity. It’s better to leave them alone and they won’t harm you.

While pesticides are not very effective against these species, you can apply scorpion-specific pesticides in the outer periphery of your home, and cracks and crevices through which they can enter. These pesticides can also rid your house of the pests that are food for the arachnids. You can hire professional help if you don’t want to deal with these creatures.