The Truth About Tailless Whip Scorpions: Do They Bite?

Tailless whip scorpions, also known as amblypygids, are fascinating arachnids that can be found in tropical and subtropical regions. With their flat body, ten legs, and long, thin whip-like legs, these creatures resemble a cross between a spider and a scorpion. However, despite their intimidating appearance, they are relatively harmless to humans as they do not possess venomous stingers or bites.

These unusual arachnids use their specialized pedipalps, or pincer-bearing front arms, for sensory and predatory purposes. They can grow quite big, up to 19 to 25 inches in length, and are known to inhabit places like the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. Since tailless whip scorpions don’t have venom, they rely on their powerful pedipalps to capture and subdue their prey, which mainly consists of insects and small invertebrates.

What Are Tailless Whip Scorpions?

Taxonomy and Scientific Name

Tailless whip scorpions belong to the order Amblypygi within the class of arachnids. They are sometimes referred to as cave spiders, although they are not true spiders. These arachnids are found primarily in tropical and subtropical regions, with many species native to South America.

Physical Appearance

Tailless whip scorpions are unique arachnids known for their flat body and large, spiny pedipalps (pincer-bearing front arms). Their distinctive features include:

  • Ten legs, with the first set of legs being long, thin, and whip-like
  • Spiny and powerful pedipalps used for sensory and predatory purposes
  • A flat body that allows them to fit into tight spaces, such as cracks in rocks

Some amblypygids found in the El Yunque National Forest can reach sizes of 19 to 25 inches (48 to 63 cm). Despite their intimidating appearance, tailless whip scorpions do not possess venom and are not known to bite humans.

Feature Comparison to Spiders
Legs Tailless whip scorpions have 10 legs, whereas spiders have 8 legs.
Venom Tailless whip scorpions do not have venom, unlike many spider species.
Pincer-bearing front arms Amblypygids have spiny and powerful pedipalps, while spiders usually have fangs.

In summary, tailless whip scorpions are a unique group of arachnids known for their distinctive appearance and harmless nature. Their flat body and powerful pedipalps make them formidable predators in their natural habitat, but they pose no threat to humans.

Habitat and Distribution

Preferred Environments

Tailless whip scorpions prefer living in tropical and subtropical areas, where they can find high levels of humidity and spaces like caves, crevices, and under boulders. They thrive in these humid environments due to their need for moisture.

  • Examples of preferred environments:
    • Damp caves
    • Rock crevices
    • Beneath boulders

Geographical Range

The geographical range of tailless whip scorpions varies, with some species like Mastigoproctus giganteus giganteus found in the United States, particularly in Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. This species also exists in Mexico, along with two other subspecies, Mastigoproctus giganteus mexicanus and Mastigoproctus giganteus scabrosus 1.

  • Locations where tailless whip scorpions can be found:
    • United States (specific states)
    • Mexico (certain regions)

Comparison Table: Tropical vs. Subtropical Habitats

Habitat Temperature Humidity Presence of Tailless Whip Scorpions
Tropical High (hot) High Common
Subtropical Moderate Moderate Found, but less common

Diet and Prey

Hunting Techniques

Tailless whip scorpions, also known as Amblypygids, are nocturnal predators that rely on their unique features to hunt prey. They have ten legs, with the first pair being very long, thin, and whip-like. These specialized legs are used for:

  • Sensing vibrations
  • Detecting potential prey
  • Navigating through dark environments

While hunting, tailless whip scorpions use their spiny and powerful pedipalps (pincer-bearing front arms) to:

  • Grasp and immobilize their prey
  • Tear and consume the prey

Common Prey Items

The diet of tailless whip scorpions consists mostly of various invertebrates. Some common prey items include:

  • Crickets: often found in their natural habitats, a good source of protein
  • Cave spiders: good targets due to their shared preference for dark environments
  • Insects and worms: smaller, easily accessible prey items
  • Flies and large insects: provide a wider range of nutrients

Although their primary diet is invertebrates, some larger species of tailless whip scorpions are known to occasionally prey on small vertebrates.

Prey Item Benefits Drawbacks
Crickets High protein None
Cave Spiders Shared habitat None
Insects and Worms Easily accessible Smaller
Flies, Large Insects More nutrients Harder to catch

In conclusion, tailless whip scorpions have unique hunting techniques and prey items that sustain their diet and survival in varying habitats.

Behavior and Characteristics

Nocturnal Activities

Tailless whip scorpions are primarily nocturnal creatures, meaning they are active during the night. This helps them avoid predators and hunt for their prey more efficiently. Their key features for nocturnal activities are:

  • Large, sensitive eyes
  • Antenniform legs that act as sensory organs

These sensory organs allow them to navigate in the dark and detect any nearby potential prey or threats.

Molting Process

As they grow, tailless whip scorpions undergo a molting process to shed their old exoskeleton and develop a new one. During molting, they are vulnerable to predators because their new exoskeleton isn’t fully developed.

Mating Behavior

When it comes to mating behavior, tailless whip scorpions exhibit an interesting dance. This involves the male and female tapping their pedipalps and antenniform legs together. After the mating process, the female will carry the fertilized eggs in a sac attached to her abdomen.

In summary, tailless whip scorpions possess unique characteristics and behaviors that enable them to thrive in their environment, such as being nocturnal, undergoing a molting process, and exhibiting interesting mating behaviors. They use their eyes, pedipalps, and antenniform legs to navigate and find prey, providing them with an advantage in their ecosystem.

Tailless Whip Scorpions as Pets

Ideal Environments for Captivity

Tailless whip scorpions, also known as Amblypygi, make interesting and low-maintenance pets. These arachnids require a specific environment to thrive in captivity:

  • Size: As adults, they can grow up to 25 inches, so ensure their enclosure is large enough.
  • Climbing Space: They love to climb, so provide branches or other vertical surfaces.
  • Hiding Spots: Provide multiple hiding spots, such as cork bark or artificial caves.
  • Humidity: Maintain a high humidity level, as they are native to tropical forests.

Feeding and Care

Feeding and caring for tailless whip scorpions isn’t difficult, but it requires attention:

  • Diet: They eat live insects like crickets.
  • Feeding Frequency: Feed them about once a week, adjusting based on their response.
  • Care: Mist the enclosure regularly to maintain moisture; remove uneaten food and waste.

In summary, tailless whip scorpions can make fascinating and low-maintenance pets as long as they have the proper environment and care. Just ensure their enclosure accommodates their size, climbing needs, and hiding spots, and maintain proper humidity levels. Feed them live insects, and keep their living space clean for a happy and healthy pet.

Bite and Defense Mechanisms

Pinching vs. Biting

Tailless whip scorpions, also known as Amblypygids, have unique features for defense and capturing prey. They possess pincers (pedipalps) and mandibles but do not have fangs or venomous capabilities. Instead of biting, they use their pincers to:

  • Grasp and hold prey
  • Defend themselves against threats

For example, a tailless whip scorpion might use its pincers to capture and immobilize a small insect.

Danger to Humans

Tailless whip scorpions are generally considered harmless to humans. They are not venomous or poisonous, and their primary defense mechanism is to use their pincers for pinching. While a pinch from a tailless whip scorpion could cause some discomfort or pain, it is unlikely to result in any lasting harm or injury.

Here’s a comparison table to summarize the differences between tailless whip scorpions and other venomous creatures:

Feature Tailless Whip Scorpion Venomous Creature
Fangs No Yes
Mandibles Yes Yes/no (depends on species)
Pincers Yes Yes/no (depends on species)
Venomous No Yes
Poisonous No Yes/no (depends on species)
Harmless to humans Yes No
Defense mechanism Pinching Biting/Stinging

Notable Tailless Whip Scorpion Species

Damon Diadema

Damon Diadema is a tailless whip scorpion species native to both East and West Africa. These arachnids are nocturnal, possessing flat bodies and impressive 19 to 25 inch legspan for the members found in some parts, like El Yunque National Forest. They hunt smaller insects to feed upon.

Some key features of Damon Diadema include:

  • No venomous bite or sting
  • Long, thin, and whip-like front legs
  • Spiny and powerful pedipalps for capturing prey

Damon Variegatus

Damon Variegatus is another tailless whip scorpion species, closely related to Damon Diadema. The main difference between the two species is their geographical distribution.

Features of Damon Variegatus:

  • Similar body shape to Damon Diadema
  • Also nocturnal and carnivorous

Charon Grayi

Charon Grayi, a species part of the Paracharontidae family, can be found in Southeast Asia. This family, also related to the Charontidae and Phrynidae families, is home to a variety of similar tailless whip scorpions.

Charon Grayi characteristics:

  • Ten legs, similar to other tailless whip scorpions
  • Not venomous, though they look menacing with their powerful pedipalps
  • Large legspan compared to body size

Not all species mentioned can be found in the United States. For example, Paraphrynus mexicanus is one species native to Arizona.

Comparison table:

Species Region Legspan Venomous?
Damon Diadema East & West Africa 19-25 inches No
Damon Variegatus East & West Africa Similar to D. Diadema No
Charon Grayi Southeast Asia Large (relative to the body) No

Footnotes

  1. Giant whip scorpion – Mastigoproctus giganteus giganteus (Lucas, 1835)

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Tailless Whipscorpion

 

spider has pincers like scorpion
Location: arizona
September 14, 2011 11:37 pm
I just found that scorpion looking spider in my back yard it was about 5 to 8 cm and has pincers like a scorpion any idea what is kind of bug is that and is it poisonous?
Signature: spider has pincers

Tailless Whipscorpion

Though it superficially resembles both spiders and scorpions, the Tailless Whipscorpion is a perfectly harmless arachnid that has no venom.

Letter 2 – Tailless Whip Scorpion

 

Spider
Please help, found in AZ.
Mark M. Moore

Dear Mark,
What a marvelous image of a Tailless Whip Scorpion. These shy retiring creatures are harmless.

Letter 3 – Tailless Whip-Scorpion

 

Please help, found in AZ.
Mark M. Moore

Hi Mark,
You don’t need help. The Tailless Whip-Scorpion is perfectly harmless.

Letter 4 – Tailless Whip-Scorpion

 

Mexico
Hey Bugmaster
I’m in Mexico for a study abroad, and I came across this bug and had NO idea what the heck it might be. I watched it for about an hour and tried to put other insects in with it to see its reaction, it hated ants and didnt bother with a cockroach. P.S.- you may have to zoom in 100% to get a good view of it and the flash dosent do much for the coloration of the insect but it really shows its body structure well.
Thanks!!!
Tommy C.

Hi Tommy,
You have sent in a photo of a Tailless Whip-Scorpion, Family Tarantulidae. They are denizens of the humid tropics. They are nocturnal, often living under stones and bark. They are predatory, feeding on insects and arthropods. They are not venomous

Letter 5 – Tailless Whip-Scorpion

 

Spider?
Hello – Please find the attached photo of a spider (?) that we found in our bungalow sink on the tropical coast of Oaxaca, Mexico in October. This spider’s body was .5 – 1 inch wide. What are the long antennae-like structures? Do they bite? Thanks so much,
Will Bellomy

Hi Will,
Thanks for sending in a photo of a Tailless Whip-Scorpion from the Family Tarantulidae, Order Pedipalpida or sometimes Order Amblypygi. Arachnid relatives of spiders and scorpions. Several species are also found in the continental U.S. They are not poisonous, and despite their fierce appearance, they will not bite. They are nocturnal hunters that often run sideways. They prey on small arthropods.

Letter 6 – Tailless Whip Scorpion

 

Subject:  What kind of bug?
Geographic location of the bug:  Phoenix, AZ
Date: 08/26/2018
Time: 08:43 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found this guy crawling from underneath my concrete patio? Any idea what it is?
How you want your letter signed:  Frank

Tailless Whip Scorpion

Dear Frank,
This is a Tailless Whip Scorpion, and unlike its namesakes, the true Scorpions, it lacks venom, so it is no threat to humans, though a large individual might bite if carelessly handled.  Tailless Whip Scorpions are shy predators that hunt at night and they will help keep your home free from other more problematic creatures, like Cockroaches, Scorpions and Spiders.  Based on this BugGuide image, we believe your individual is 
Paraphrynus carolynae.  According to BugGuide:  “The very long front legs are referred to as ANTENNIFORM LEGS. The animal uses them to ‘feel’ its way about and to locate its insect prey, which is captured with the spiny pedipalps.” 

Daniel,
Thank you so much for the info! I appreciate it.

Letter 7 – Tailless Whip-Scorpion from Panama

 

Subject:  New Bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Isla Bastimentos, Panama
Date: 01/29/2019
Time: 04:13 PM EDT
Your letter to the Bugman:  Julien found it in a cave in Panama!  🙂 (he was already deceased) xo
Jesse Kamm

Tailless Whipscorpion

Hi Neighbor,
This is a harmless Tailless Whipscorpion, a shy predator that prefers the dark, hence its presence in the cave.  It is our understanding that Cancle is a common name used in some Spanish speaking countries for the Tailless Whipscorpion.

Letter 8 – Tailless Whipscorpion

 

whats that bug
I was rudely awoken one night by this crawling across my face…. i have no idea what it is can you identify it for me please

This is a harmless Tailless Whipscorpion. In the U.S. these shy predators can be found in Arizona, Texas and Florida, but most of our reports come from tropical countries. Sadly, you did not provide a location.

Letter 9 – Tailless Whipscorpion

 

Vinagrillo?
We saw this spider in mexico when we were checking out some of the ruins. It was about 3 and 1/2" accross. Could you tell us what it is? and is it dangerous? Thanks.

The Tailless Whipscorpion is harmless.

Letter 10 – Tailless Whipscorpion

 

what’s the name of that thing!
HI, I FOUND THIS STRANGE BUG OR INSECT AND DON’T HAVE A CLUE WHAT IT IS,PLEASE HELP ME FIND OUT ITS NAME AND WHAT CLASS OF INSECT OR BUG IT IS.THIS BUG OR INSECT WAS FOUND BY MYSELF HERE IN GRENADA.
THANK YOU.
DILLON JOHNSON

Hi Dillon,
The Tailless Whipscorpion belongs to the Order Amblypygi. Despite the fierce appearance, they are harmless and actually quite shy nocturnal hunters.

Letter 11 – Tailless Whipscorpion

 

Big bug in garage
Hi Bugman:
I live in Phoenix, and when I went to grab the dust-buster the other night, I nearly wound up with a handful of heart attack. Can you identify this beast? Or at least which planet it came from? I also found one at the bottom of my pool a couple weeks ago.
Thanks,
John

Hi John,
Despite the warning sign which gives us endless amusement, the Tailless Whipscorpion is harmless. It is a shy desert dweller often found in dark damp areas.

Letter 12 – Tailless Whipscorpion

 

whats that bug
what’s that bug? spider like? black apx 4" spread between it’s legs? Quick. Phoenix AZ

Hi Phoenix,
You have a great photo of a Tailless Whipscorpion, Family Tarantulidae, genus Tarantula. Whipscorpions are usually found in damp places, indoors in basements and shower stalls. They are nocturnal hunters and harmless to people. WE are assuming that the word “Quick” in your brief query referred to the movement of the creature and not to a demand on our part for an answer. They do scurry sidewise quickly if approached. Thay range in color from pale to dark blackish brown, deopending on the time since the last molt. They eat insects and spiders as well as other arthropods.

Letter 13 – Tailless Whipscorpion

 

Costa Rican spider
Sat, Dec 6, 2008 at 5:55 PM
Costa Rican spider
We recently visited the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, and came across this spider on the back of a building at the Cerro Escondido eco-lodge (up a rocky path from Montana Grande in the Karen Mogensen Reserve). I’m curious to find out what it is, because it looks like a mix-mash of everything.
Deborah Dearth
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Tailless Whipscorpion
Tailless Whipscorpion

Hi Deborah,
This is a harmless Tailless Whipscorpion, a shy nocturnal predator.

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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