The bark scorpion's is the most dangerous of all scorpion stings.

The bark scorpion likes to live in trees (bark) and hide in woodpiles, under fallen trees, or under your camping bedding.

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Scorpions make me think of Westerns. Some cowboy is riding a horse in the desert and they cut to a single scorpion in the sand. It symbolizes that this land is rough, rugged, and dangerous. One sting, and you’re dead.

Cut to real life. While you will find most scorpions in the desert, you may also come across them in many Southeastern and Midwestern states. In all but one species in the U.S., the scorpion sting is similar to a bee sting. Yes, you can be allergic, and the reaction can result in death. (See my bee stings post for signs and treatment of this anaphylactic reaction.)

Usually, though, the scorpion sting just hurts. But there is one scorpion here that causes more problems than others: the bark scorpion. Its sting can affect your brain and nerves. Some people are more vulnerable to a bad outcome than others, but there are things you can do if you see the reaction.

Bark Scorpions
  • Live in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern Colorado.
  • Are yellow or gray.
  • Are relatively small, about 2–3 inches from head to stinger.
  • Like to live in trees (bark) and hide in woodpiles, under fallen trees, or under your camping bedding.
  • Can also be found inside the house in shoes, in clothes, and under blankets. They come out and hunt for insects, etc., at night.
Many scorpion species, including the bark scorpion, glow in the dark if a black light is shined on them.

Many scorpion species, including the bark scorpion, glow in the dark if a black light is shined on them.

Their sting can be fatal, but it’s not always. In fact, most bark scorpion stings are no worse than stings from other scorpions. But even in healthy adults, about 1 percent of victims can die without treatment. In children under 5, the risk of death is estimated to be as high as 25 percent. Adults with chronic diseases and those 65 and older are also at higher risk.

Antivenin treatment is available at medical centers in regions where the bark scorpion is most prevalent.

Serious symptoms start within minutes of the sting and may include:

  • Increased salivation (foaming at the mouth or drooling)
  • Blurred vision
  • Trouble focusing
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle twitches
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Seizures
  • Trouble breathing

If you see any of these symptoms and can’t get the victim to the antivenin, an ice pack applied within two hours of the sting can decrease the poison’s spread. If the person’s having trouble breathing, make sure they have an open airway by rolling them on their side (or putting in an airway if you know how). Try rest and fluids—IV fluids if you have them. Usually the symptoms subside within 24 to 48 hours.

If the person doesn’t have a reaction you can just treat the sting like you would a normal bee sting.

What about you? Have you, or an acquaintance, ever been stung? How did it feel?

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Bark scorpion on rocks: Flickr/Beetles in the Bush. Bark scorpion under black light: Flickr/midwinter.