House Full of Scorpions
May 20, 2010 3:18 PM   Subscribe

House full of scorpions: how to live (sort of) normally?

I'll be staying in an old house in the foothills of the Sierras for a few days that has something of a scorpion problem.. lots of the very small ones (1" or so) keep getting in the house, usually in the bathroom or kitchen (lots meaning regularly finding 3 or 4 in the bathtub every morning). I'm not so concerned with how to stop them from coming in, or tracking all of them down, because I'll only be there for a short time and the house is very, very old. What I want to know is this:

How, psychologically, can I relax and not make a big deal out of this? I can get the check-your-clothes, check-your-shoes, check-under-boxes routines down to some extent, but it still just creeps me out to be in the house knowing they're there, and it makes me tense the entire time.
posted by devilsbrigade to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
Guy, I have one word for you: TENT
posted by jimmythefish at 3:31 PM on May 20, 2010

If I had to stay in the house, I'd make sure that the bed couldn't be ascended by the scorpions. Ideally it would have vertical smooth metal posts several inches above the floor.
At night I'd keep my shoes and socks on the bed, so I wouldn't have to worry about critters in them. Then when I'd wake up, shoes and socks go on first thing. Once my feet were armored up, I'd be relatively ok, psychologically. Oh, I'm assuming you have some kind of thick boot type shoes. If not, I'd get some.
posted by forforf at 4:00 PM on May 20, 2010

All species must learn to get along on this beautiful, precious planet of ours so my only real suggestion, as a person who lives in a country where tiny multi-legged capsules of agonising death lurk in every shoe and beneath the rim of every toilet, my advice is to just be vigilant and not get yourself drunk to the point where you think you would like to wear a bunch of scorpions as an awesome pretend beard.

All scorpions are venemous, of course, so getting stung is going to hurt on the "Ow, you little prick!" to "OH JESUS GOD HELP ME MY STOMACH, MY STOMACH IS EATING MY HEART, BLEEEAAAAAAHHHH!" Scale Of Agony, but according to the Nevada Department of Agriculture's piece of shit website, you only really need to worry about the bark scorpion (some info here), but even that won't kill you in most cases, unless you are particularly weak-willed.

Me, I'd just think of them as particularly chunky ants. You could even learn to love them. They're great for pest control and, really, they're not going to hunt you down in the night. Knowledge is power, so learn about them, and the more you know the less you'll worry.

Also check out this awesome Sierra Nevada Monstrous Manual for many opportunities to level-up. Level-up your knowledge of natural history, that is!
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:01 PM on May 20, 2010 [35 favorites]

I lived amidst scorpions for a time, and all I can offer for consolation is that your situational-awareness and scorpion radar will become second nature to the point where they (mostly) differentiate from any feelings of anxiety you may have.

Think of them as flightless bees. They may pack a nastier sting, but hey, no wings.
posted by itstheclamsname at 4:21 PM on May 20, 2010

Buy this. It's a super duper special flashlight about the size of your finger that makes Mag lights look like old men with their pants up around their nipples.

We have a tick situation and every night before we go to bed, I scour the bedclothes with this thing like I'm sweeping for a prison break. When I have to find one on my black dog, there it is. When I need to find something in the linty jungle that is the area beneath the fridge, this thing is like the eye of God.

I can't help you psychologically, but maybe if you find the bastards and feel confident that you can, you can handle it. Lift the shower curtain up on the rod so you don't have to sweep it back and be surprised. Get a jar with a wide mouth and a dustpan at the ready, so if you have to deal with one, you're set. Have a plan. Know what you're going to do. Unless you're planning on killing them, in which case, maybe a tiny guillotine.

I will spare you my problem with the rat snakes by the bridge.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:43 PM on May 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I used to work at an insect zoo where I'd regularly feed critters like scorpions, so I offer you the consolation of having to take care (rather than kill) animals like that: you will get used to their existence the more you see them. I could never do this myself, but one of the zookeepers would pick them up with her hands to demonstrate that it was possible (I'm sure that was frowned on, in any case, we usually used tongs). Could you visit a zoo or pet store ahead of time just to watch and stare at them? (I'm assuming you haven't lived in scorpion-infested areas before)

You mentioned routines of checking everywhere, and further, I recommend extending your routines to knowing routines for things will probably not happen, like getting stung. I'm sure every parent there has a sting kit in their diaper bag. Turning it into a checklist, routine, and educating yourself will help flatten the the existence of your house as a veritable insect zoo from freakiness into mundanity.

Or, barring that: set up a webcam or flickr photo set and thus treasure each scorpion you see as one more way to freak out your friends/get web traffic.
posted by artifarce at 4:53 PM on May 20, 2010

Expanding on forforf's suggestion, I remember my grandmother telling me they would put the legs of their beds in mason jars which were then filled with little bit of mineral oil back when she was very young. I guess the smooth sides of the jars were tough to climb, and the oil would trap anything that made it that far. It was for bedbugs, but I'd imagine this could work for anything.
Get the wide mouthed jars, though, since scorpions are a bit bigger and might be able to bridge the gap from jar to bedframe on a normal jar.

This would be if you discard my gut response, which involves fire and lots of it, followed by running while screaming. But I'm from the northeast, so perhaps I'm overreacting.
posted by Kellydamnit at 5:28 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I lived in a scorpion rich environment for a while, and even got stung one night (which made me think I would end up dead, I didn't).

My big piece of advice is to check your underwear. Several people I know got stung, although my friend Guppie was the only one who really suffered from it. He pulled his swimtrunks off a clothes line, and put them on without looking inside. Inside was a scorpion, and the scorpion stung him on the nuts. I've been leery of clothes lines ever since.

(Strangely enough, although all this happened over ten years ago, I was just thinking of Guppie's scorpion sting the other day.)
posted by OmieWise at 6:19 PM on May 20, 2010

as mentioned.

never go barefoot...

The wife stepped on a small one in the kitchen when we lived in Texas... hurt like a bugger... she survived...
posted by HuronBob at 6:22 PM on May 20, 2010

As artifarce says, an insect zoo puts things in perspective. I recall visiting one where the handler picked up and started stroking the back of a hand-sized black scorpion (exact species not recalled), and then started fondling the tail/stinger while crooning, "ah, my cute little baby... uh, anyone want to hold her?"
posted by ovvl at 8:48 PM on May 20, 2010

I'm not sure if it's the same in Nevada, but in Arizona we'd take a black light camping. The little buggers are supposed to be black light responsive. Maybe if you shined a black light in your room to make sure you were alone it would make you feel better?

I second the mason jar bed leg idea, only I was told a pie tin filled with Vaseline. But that might have been for some other pest.

If you see something that looks like a brown rubber band, kick it before you pick it up.

If you are bit, get to the hospital for the anti venom. You won't die. The only people who die from scorpion bites are the very young or the very weak who have been bit by the little tiny ones.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:09 PM on May 20, 2010

Um scorpions can climb walls and across ceilings and drop onto the bed. They can survive being washed in the washing machine, all I know this for a fact. Can you put a net over the bed somehow and a stopper in the tub and sinks? Also the black light really works for finding them. Watch out when sorting dirty laundry, both times I've been stung, it was doing laundry. Personally Motel 6 would be sounding really good right now. I hate those little suckers.
posted by tamitang at 9:56 PM on May 20, 2010

Oh god, this question's making me a bit woozy. (Flashbacks to living in the 3rd World. That and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.)

Similarly to Kellydamnit's answer, when living in the Dominican Republic, we picked up the habit of putting the legs of nearly all our furniture in pans or cookie sheets full of water.

We didn't really want to drown anything, but did realize that the bugs we were contending with weren't big fans of water. Sure enough— They'd crawl up and sometimes over the rim of the pan, take one look or swipe at the water, and turn right back around.

As far as them dropping off the ceiling (ew, been there/screamed at that), can you buy a bug net?

(This led, of course, to me spending A LOT of time in my bed, surrounded by water and covered by aforementioned bug net.)
posted by functionequalsform at 1:37 PM on May 21, 2010

Man, this question hits home. I raise a toddler in a scorpion environment (and spitting cobra environment- but that's another story)

Since you're only going to be there a few days, you will be fine. Short answer: sleep under a bed net that you tuck under the mattress. This allows you the solace of knowing you can plop into a secure bed at the end of the day and sleep undisturbed. Eventually, you will develop an awareness that isn't mired in anxiety. For example: you don't want to be stung by wasps and hornets, but you know when and where to be careful and what to do if you come upon them.

Also, do the obvious: As you say, don't walk around barefoot, examine clothes before you put them on. Knowledge is power. Learn what they eat and where they live. Find out if they're nocturnal or diurnal. This may give you a better idea when to be more vigilant.

If you could talk to somebody who lives there and find out how they deal with it, that may make you feel better.

If you're really phobic, the tent idea may not be so bad. Some tents can be pitched indoors. But I really think a bed net that is tucked in (and stays tucked in during the day) will help a lot. Where I live, we fear mosquitoes (malaria) more than scorpions, but a bed net keeps out both.
posted by MacChimpman at 5:51 AM on May 23, 2010

Response by poster: Good advice.. to follow up, trip went fine, killed 2 or 3 running around on the floor over the first couple nights (they're nocturnal, it turns out) and washed a couple down the drain in the bath tub.. felt much better after that, and never had a close call. They were very skiddish, they'd try to get to walls as soon as I came stomping in.. they also couldn't really climb that well (I saw one fall after getting about an inch up a wall) which made me feel much better.

Stripping the bed every night was a pain. Unpacking and repacking every last thing when we were leaving was a pain. Leaving all the lights on at night was weird. But it was all massively worth it.
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:30 PM on May 27, 2010

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