Parabuthus (burrowing thick-tailed
(animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra >
Arthropoda > Arachnomorpha > Cheliceriformes > Chelicerata > Euchelicerata
> Arachnida > Scorpiones
> Superfamily: Buthoidea > Family: Buthidae
Parabuthus is an
Afrotropical genus with 20 of the 28 species endemic to southern Africa. It
occurs in areas of less than 600 mm of rain per annum and is absent in southern
Africa from the extreme Eastern Cape, Kwazulu Natal, much of the Free State and
the Highveld. The distribution extends northwards through eastern Africa to the
Arabian Peninsula. Parabuthus avoids moist or humid conditions and is
thus absent from tropical central and the western bulge of Africa.
It is a psammophilous
scorpion adapted to areas of soft to hard gritty soil. They all dig shallow
burrows in sand at the base of shrubs, under rock, logs or any suitable cover.
The females are normally sedentary, staying at home, while males of certain
species are lapidocolous, using any available cover
during its wanderings or may even excavate a new burrow.
Parabuthus range in size
from 40 to 140 mm long, usually longer than 70 mm. Parabuthus schlechteri,
traansvaalicus and villosus are the largest buthids in the world, measuring
up to 140 mm. The colour ranges from a yellow through brown to black without any
of the characteristic markings found on other buthid scorpions. The legs are
usually lighter in colour than the body. Most species have a very robust tail
with the first 2 tail segments having nodes or ridges across which the aculeus
(sting) is scraped producing a stridulatory, warning hiss. Some species
stridulate more readily than others do. Parabuthus is also the only
buthid scorpion in southern Africa to stridulate in this way.
Parabuthus scorpions are
of great medical importance and all species must be regarded as potentially
lethal. In the north-western Cape scorpions are more of a problem than snakebite
with the reverse being the case in Kwazulu/Natal.
The quick acting venom negates
the need for large chelae which are only used to hold onto its prey while being
stung and unlike the thin-tailed scorpions, the chelae are not used to kill or
hold onto its prey while succumbing to the weak venom. Whether there is any
logical connection between chela size and tail thickness is still debatable as Parabuthus
also uses the thick tail for burrowing. The tail with stinger is
held over the head ready to strike but Parabuthus can also execute a
sideways defensive jab – so do not try and pick it up with the fingers!
Gerry Newlands was the
first to mention that certain Buthidae scorpions spray venom up to 1 metre and
the fifth metosomal (tail) segments of these scorpions are enlarged. The 3
species cited are Parabuthus schlechteri, P. transvaalicus and P. villosus.
This has not yet been documented conclusively and is refuted by some
experts – so lets get it on video!
Some of the species in southern Africa
(Granulated thick-tailed scorpion)
thick-tailed scorpion is large, about 115 mm in length and dark yellow to
brown colour. It has a relatively small vesicle compared to other species.
It is common from just north of Cape Town to northern Namibia and eastwards
into the Northern Province. This scorpion is responsible for most of the
serious cases of envenomation in South Africa. The venom is more toxic than Parabuthus
P. stridulus occurs in the Namid dunes from Oranjemund in
the south to the Ugab River in the north. This scorpion has a shiny
This scorpion is
commonly found under stones in the Boland, south coast and Karoo and is
often misidentified as P. capensis.
Parabuthus capensis (Cape
70 to 100 mm in length and a yellowish-brown
colour although a black variety also occurs. It occurs just north of the Cape Peninsula northwards into southern
Namibia and extending eastwards into the Eastern Cape becoming less common
with this eastward distribution.
Parabuthus transvaalicus (Transvaal
Transvaal thick-tailed scorpion is large, about 140 mm in length and dark
brown to black and hairy. It is reputed to be the second most venomous
southern African scorpion. This scorpion can also be active in the morning
and can be found in thatched roofs.
scorpion is very common in the far Northern Province and southern Zimbabwe
and looks similar to P. transvaalicus.
Parabuthus villosus (Black
hairy thick-tailed scorpion)
hairy thick-tailed scorpion is large, about 140 mm in length and is black in
colour. It is often seen during the day and is common from the Northern Cape
and Namibia. Besides its normal prey it also captures lizards and mice.