In the fascinating world of insects, there exist many curious creatures. One such marvel is an insect with a scorpion-like tail, which captures the imagination with its unique appearance and intriguing behavior.
These insects, while resembling a scorpion because of their distinctive tails, actually belong to different groups within the animal kingdom. For example, the pseudoscorpions are small arachnids, possessing pincers and a scorpion-like appearance but lacking the stinging tail of a true scorpion. They are often red or brown and play an essential role in our ecosystems by preying on other insects and arachnids.
While it is important to appreciate the wonders of nature, it is also crucial to understand the differences between these insects and their scorpion relatives. This knowledge can help dispel common misconceptions and promote a better appreciation of their unique characteristics and ecological roles.
Insect Anatomy and Appearance
Insects with scorpion-like tails often have a distinct segmented tail. This long, slender tail is usually arched over the back of the abdomen, serving as a multi-functional limb for balance, defense, and capturing prey. Examples of segmented tails can be found in creatures like scorpions and earwigs.
Some insects possess pincers, like pseudoscorpions. The pincers, scientifically known as pedipalps, are prominent features used for:
- Grasping prey
- Sensing their surroundings
- Defensive mechanisms
Arthropods, such as insects and arachnids, have varying numbers of legs. For example:
- Insects typically have six legs
- Arachnids, like scorpions, have eight legs
Knowing the leg count helps in differentiating insects from arachnids.
Many insects possess wings, enabling them to fly and escape predators. However, some creatures with a scorpion-like tail do not have wings, such as scorpions and pseudoscorpions.
The stinger is a critical weapon found in some insects and arachnids, located at the tip of the tail. The stinger is used for:
- Injecting venom
- Paralyzing prey
Scorpion’s stingers are quite famous, though not all arthropods in this category have a venomous sting.
|Feature||Insect Example||Arachnid Example|
|Wings||Present in many||Absent|
|Stinger||Some species||Primarily venomous in scorpions|
Types of Scorpion-Like Insects
Scorpionflies are a type of insect that resemble long-faced wasps. They have wings that are held in a V position and are commonly golden, clear, or light-colored with a black-banded or black-spotted pattern. Male scorpionflies have a bulbous, upcurled “tail” that resembles a scorpion’s stinger, but it is harmless. Scorpionflies feed on dead insects, nectar, and are sometimes known to be omnivorous.
Whip scorpions, also called vinegaroons, are a type of arachnid. They have elongated, whip-like front legs which they use for sensing their environment. Whip scorpions are not true scorpions and do not possess venomous stingers; instead, they have a long, thin tail that can spray a defensive acetic acid-like fluid.
Water scorpions are aquatic insects that resemble land scorpions due to their elongated, breathing-tube “tails.” They have forelegs adapted for grasping prey and feed on other aquatic insects, tadpoles, and small fish. Although their “tail” looks like a stinger, it is actually used for breathing underwater.
Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle
The Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle is a type of rove beetle and not a true scorpion. It has a segmented abdomen that can be raised like a scorpion’s tail when threatened. Despite their appearance, they do not have a stinger and are not venomous. These beetles feed on insects and slugs, making them beneficial for gardeners.
Camel spiders, also known as sunspiders or windscorpions, are a type of arachnid that resembles both spiders and scorpions. They have large, powerful jaws for capturing and consuming prey. Camel spiders are nocturnal and primarily feed on insects. Although they can appear threatening, they are not venomous and pose no danger to humans.
|Insect Type||True Scorpion?||Venomous?||Feeding Habits|
|Scorpionflies||No||No||Dead insects, nectar, omnivorous|
|Whip Scorpions||No||No||Carnivorous, mainly insects|
|Water Scorpions||No||No||Aquatic insects, tadpoles, small fish|
|Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle||No||No||Insects, slugs|
Habitat and Behavior
Soil and Burrows
Insects with scorpion-like tails typically prefer soil as their primary habitat. These creatures often dig burrows or utilize natural gaps between stones to create shelters. For example, striped bark scorpions inhabit warm, rocky areas and utilize various debris for shelter.
Hedgerows are another popular habitat for these insects. Dense vegetation provides an ideal hideout, with ample opportunities for hunting prey and avoiding predators. Many insects, like the common scorpionflies, are found in grassland habitats near hedgerows.
Nature reserves, known for their preserved wildlife and rich biodiversity, can support a variety of scorpion-tailed insects. Protected areas provide a stable environment for these unique insects to thrive.
Compost heaps are great habitats for these insects. Organic matter decomposing in gardens attracts a lot of medium-sized insects, providing an abundant food source. Additionally, the warmth and moisture in compost heaps create a favorable microhabitat for these fascinating creatures.
|Soil & Burrows||Shelter and protection from predators||Limited food availability|
|Hedgerows||Dense vegetation provides cover||Competition for food|
|Nature Reserves||Preserved biodiversity and resources||Human disturbance possible|
|Compost Heaps||Abundant food resources||Risk of human interference|
- Scorpion-like tails
- Prefer soil as habitat
- Inhabit hedgerows, nature reserves, and compost heaps
- Unique tail structure
- Predatory behavior
- Exist in various environments
Diet and Predation
Prey and Food
Pseudoscorpions are small arachnids that have a body length of about 1/5 inch long. Their diet mainly consists of:
- Dead insects
Pseudoscorpions use their pincers (pedipalps) to capture and consume prey.
Venom and Saliva
While pseudoscorpions don’t have stingers like true scorpions, they do have venomous glands in their pedipalps. Their venom and saliva help them immobilize and digest their prey.
These tiny creatures are ambush predators. They patiently wait for their prey and quickly attack when the opportunity arises. Some examples of their preferred environments include:
- Leaf litter
- Underneath rocks
Pseudoscorpions, being small in size, are also targets for other predators. Animals that prey on pseudoscorpions include:
By considering multiple factors, we can better understand the diet and predation of insects with scorpion-like tails, such as pseudoscorpions.
Reproduction and Development
Mating and Breeding
Insects with scorpion-like tails exhibit unique mating behaviors. Males and females engage in courtship rituals before mating, which may involve dancing and exchanging pheromones.
For example, scorpions use their tails to grasp their mate during courtship, ensuring the successful transfer of sperm to the female.
Eggs and Larvae
Egg-laying varies among these insects—some lay eggs in safe environments, while others give birth to live young.
- Scorpion offspring are born alive, with a soft exoskeleton. Some insects with scorpion-like tails, such as certain butterflies, undergo complete metamorphosis and hatch from their eggs as larvae.
Examples of egg-laying habits:
- Scorpions: Live birth
- Some butterflies: Eggs laid in protected areas
Pupae and Cocoon
Not all insects with scorpion-like tails form cocoons during their developmental stages. However, those going through complete metamorphosis, like certain butterflies, will form cocoons during the pupal stage.
Here’s an overview of developmental stages for insects with complete metamorphosis:
- Pupa (cocoon stage)
During the cocoon stage, the insect undergoes transformation into its adult form. This phase is crucial for their survival and ability to reproduce later in life.
Beneficial and Harmful
Pest Control and Beneficial Uses
Some insects with scorpion-like tails are excellent at controlling pests. For instance, pseudoscorpions are known to prey on small insects and mites, making them beneficial for controlling pests in homes and gardens.
Pseudoscorpions vs. Scorpion Flies:
|Appearance||Looks like a tiny scorpion, with pincers||Scorpion-like tail, but has wings and a fly-like head|
|Behavior||Predatory, feeds on small pests||Harmless, feeds on dead insects and nectar|
|Benefits||Effective pest control||Decomposer, helps recycle nutrients in the ecosystem|
Painful Bites and Poison Glands
Not all scorpion-like insects are harmless. Scorpion toxicity can result in painful bites and dangerous venom for humans.
- Most scorpion stings are not life-threatening but cause pain and discomfort
- The venom includes neurotoxins, affecting the nervous system
Examples of venomous scorpions:
- Bark scorpions
- Deathstalker scorpions
Many insects with scorpion-like tails are actually harmless to humans. For example, the scorpion fly feeds on dead insects and nectar, causing no harm to humans or the environment. In fact, they help recycle nutrients in the ecosystem.
Features of harmless scorpion-like insects:
- Scorpion-like tail doesn’t sting
- No venomous glands or stingers
- Often contribute positively to the ecosystem
In summary, scorpion-like insects can be both beneficial and harmful, depending on the species. While some help control pests or recycle nutrients, others carry painful bites and venom. Careful identification is crucial to understanding their impact
The Emperor Scorpion (Pandinus imperator) is a large and iconic scorpion species. Native to the rainforests and savannas of West Africa, they thrive in warm, humid environments. As nocturnal creatures, they prefer hiding in burrows during the day and hunting at night. Their diet consists of insects, worms, and even small vertebrates. They are popular pets due to their relatively docile nature and impressive size.
Emperor Scorpions have a distinct morphology that includes:
- A large, black body
- A segmented tail ending in a venomous stinger
- Pincers (pedipalps) for capturing prey
- Two to six eyes, depending on the species
- A flat, broad exoskeleton
Charity and Memberships
There are several organizations, both local and international, that focus on the conservation and research of scorpions and other arachnids. These include:
- The British Arachnological Society
- The American Arachnological Society
- The International Society of Arachnology
Membership and participation in these societies can help support research and conservation efforts related to these important and fascinating creatures.
Pet and Wildlife
When considering Emperor Scorpions as pets, it is crucial to be aware of the proper care and conditions they require. Some key points to remember include:
- Maintaining a warm, humid environment
- Providing hiding places, such as cork bark or other natural materials
- Feeding a diet of insects and occasionally supplementing with other prey items
- Regularly cleaning their enclosure to prevent the buildup of waste and harmful bacteria
In their natural habitats, Emperor Scorpions play a vital role in controlling insect populations. They are ambush predators with limited eyesight, relying on their pincers and venomous stingers to capture prey. By contrast, other arachnids like Pseudoscorpions (Chelifer cancroides, Chernetid, Chthoniid) primarily feed on smaller arthropods such as dust mites, clothes moth larvae, and booklice, which helps to control these pests in various ecosystems.
|Size||Large (up to 20 cm)||Small (3-5 mm)|
|Environment||Tropical climates, rainforests||Various, including deserts|
|Diet||Insects, worms, small vertebrates||Dust mites, clothes moth larvae, booklice|
|Venom||Present, often mild in effect||Absent|
|Metabolism||Relatively slow||Faster, due to smaller size|
|As pets||Popular, requires specific care||Rare, less suitable as pets|
Understanding and appreciating the unique characteristics and roles of various arachnid species contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the natural world and how humans interact with it.
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 – Devil's Coach Horse from Canada
Location: Vancouver, canada
October 3, 2010 8:48 pm
I recently found a bug I’ve never seen before. It held it’s tail like a scorpion does, and it was very aggressive. It is an inch long with large mandibles.
I will include a photo
Signature: crazy bug
Dear crazy bug,
The threat posture assumed by the Devil’s Coach Horse, a species of Rove Beetle, in the photo that you have included helps to dissuade attackers, but other than emitting a foul odor, the Devil’s Coach Horse does not pose a threat to humans. Several different species of Devil’s Coach Horses were introduced from Europe in the mid twentieth century into North America, and they are now well established. They prey upon snails and slugs in the garden.
Letter 2 – Devil's Coach Horses from Germany
Hello, we found these little critters in some holes we dug for a fence. Every night we check the holes for varmints, we find about 6 or 7 of these little guys. So, what are they? I have never seen anything like them. We live in Germany , on the Luxembourg border. Thanks.
Die Deutsche Mannschaft ( The German Crew )
How nice of you to include an American quarter so we would have a better idea of scale. These are Devil’s Coach Horses, a type of Rove Beetle originally from Europe. They have become quite naturalized in Southern California and other areas of the U.S. We love them in our garden since they eat slugs and snails.
Letter 3 – Devil's Coach Horse, we believe
My alien superbug?
July 21, 2009
I am wondering if you can help me identify an insect?
A few years ago while I was living in Pacifica, CA (near San Francisco), I noticed this strange and aggressive insect. I cannot figure out what it is and have described it to many people, none of whom know what it is either. I have attached a drawing of what I remember it looked like.
I saw it on two occasions, both times on the sidewalk on sunny days, a few months apart. One was about 2 inches in length, the other about an inch and a half. They had black, unsegmented, hard looking body with a satiny sheen. It had no wings, but the back of the abdomen which came to a pointed tip could be curled and raised threateningly like a scorpion’s tail.
Both behaved in the same way. Upon seeing them I stood over them to get a closer look. The insect quickly noticed me and stopped walking. It turned towards me, curled it’s tail over its back so point faced me. As I walked around it, the insect whirled on its feet keeping its face and stinging tail aimed at me. It could move quite quickly. It stayed there for a few minutes until I left.
Thanks for your help! I hope you can help me figure out what it is.
We are guessing you saw a Devil’s Coach Horse, a type of Rove Beetle based on both your drawing and your excellent account of the observations. They eat snails, so we love them in our garden. We haven’t any files on our current computer, but we will attempt to search our archives so we can post a photo from a March 16, 2006 letter with your letter.
That looks close enough to my bug- so I think you got it. Thanks very much!
Letter 4 – Devil's Coach Horse from France
Unkown bug in France
Location: Provence , 43degN, 6degE, 550m elevation
October 3, 2010 8:50 pm
This bug was crossing the path we were walking on near St Cezaire, Provence, France. It was approximately 35mm long. When approached it arched it’s abdomen as in the picture. When not threatened it was held straight.
Can you identify it please.
Signature: Keith Murray
This is a Devil’s Coach Horse, a type of Rove Beetle. The Devil’s Coach Horse is a common name applied to several species of native European predatory Rove Beetles that have also been introduced to North America where they are now well established. THough it looks threatening, it is perfectly harmless to humans.
Thanks Daniel and congratulations on a great web site.
Letter 5 – Devil's Coachhorse
What’s that bug?!
Location: San Leandro, CA
October 18, 2011 3:30 am
Saw this outside my house. San Leandro, California. Body looks like a wheelbug’s but the head looks like an ant’s head. This thing gave my Duck a fight and won. It would curl it’s tail up and make a karate stance. Even took a video for you.
Signature: Irvin Najera
The Devil’s Coachhorse is a European Rove Beetle that has become naturalized in parts of North America including Southern California. Though it strikes a convincing threat posture, it is not a poisonous species, though it is capable of releasing a foul odor from scent glands in its abdomen.
Letter 6 – Devil's Coachhorse
Subject: what is this?
October 3, 2012 3:44 pm
Hi the attached bug has been in my house over the last couple weeks. Ive never seen something like this before. I have a toddler and am very worried this may be dangerous. It sticks it tail up like a scorpio when we’ve tried to get rid of it. How do i stop it coming in? Help!
Despite its fierce demeanor and frightening name, the Devil’s Coachhorse, a species of Rove Beetle, is perfectly harmless and poses no danger to your toddler. Devil’s Coachhorses are predators that feed upon snails. They do not have any venom, but if you look closely at the tip of the abdomen when in the defensive posture, you can see a pair of white glands that release a foul smell as a deterrent to any perceived threat.
Letter 7 – Devil’s Coach Horse from The Netherlands
Location: The Netherlands
August 26, 2015 8:56 am
I am in The Netherlands (europe) and came across this bug. I have never seen it before and was a lot bigger then what I normally see crawling around.
It looks like a bug with a tough shell. Though when he found me a threat, he lifted his backside up as a scorpion and faced me. I have never seen a beetle do that, so it might just be something else entirely.
I am amazed and in awe since I never seen it, while I am always looking around for bugs haha. I find them very interesting. I hope you can help me out!
We are very excited to be able to post an image of a Devil’s Coach Horse, a species of Rove Beetle, from its native habitat. Most of our images are from North America because this species was introduced and it has naturalized. We encourage Devil’s Coach Horses in our own garden as they are one of the few creatures that will feed on introduced Snails and Slugs, also from Europe. Though the Devil’s Coach Horse rears up its abdomen in a threat position, and it will release a foul odor from scent glands, it is a harmless species that poses no threat to humans.
Letter 8 – Devil’s Coach Horse from Germany
Subject: Curious Insect
Location: Ruegen, Germany
September 10, 2016 8:45 am
Dear Bug Experts,
I was recently on holiday in Ruegen, Germany (early September), and came across this unusual bug by the side of the road. It extended up its rear part at us to warn us off, much like a scorpion does. Neither I nor my German friend had ever seen this bug before. It was black, about an inch long, and had little pincers, which it flexed at us. We are curious what it is, can you help us?
This Rove Beetle is commonly called a Devil’s Coach Horse. The threat posture you describe is also accompanied by the release of a foul odor, and while they are not a dangerous species, they can appear quite frightening.
Dear Bug Experts,
Thank you so much for the interesting information! It is indeed a very cool beetle. I am very happy to know this. 🙂
Letter 9 – Devil’s Coach Horse from Portugal
Subject: Strange bug from Portugal
January 30, 2017 12:44 pm
Found this strange bug hanging around my backyard in Portugal, never seen one before. My cat chased it into the house. It’s nearing the end of winter now.
I’m of course wondering what it is. When the cat was trying to swat it around, I noticed it attempts to raise its tail like a scorpion and secretes a white liquid from the tip. A stinger of sorts, I presume?
The bug was of course released without harm.
Anyway thanks in advance for any help!
This native predatory Rove Beetle in the genus Ocypus is commonly called a Devil’s Coach Horse. They are not dangerous to humans, though they are able to expel a foul smelling odor from glands at the tip of the abdomen which they do while striking a curious curved posture that many folks liken to the appearance of a stinging scorpion. This European native has naturalized in parts of North America and according to BugGuide: “They often eat, and may help to control, the introduced brown garden snail.”