Few people would include scorpions on their top ten favorite animals list. They have a harsh reputation as creepy, mysterious, and disgusting. There are more than 1800 known species of scorpion, with many yet to be discovered and classified. They are found in numerous environments from deserts to seashores to rainforests and are part of the most successful group of animals on Earth—the arthropods. Complete fossils of scorpions are rare, but they have been found in numerous countries. They show very little change from their prehistoric ancestors, dating back to the Silurian Period, to the present. They are the earliest terrestrial animals in the Southern Hemisphere.
Scorpions have mouthparts lined with teeth used for grabbing and crushing prey. They have four pairs of legs, as is characteristic of all arachnids. A pair of pincers extends from the front of the body, and at the end of the abdomen is a stinger. Scorpions have a long life span with some living up to 30 years. After complex courtship rituals, they give birth to living young and provide maternal care to the offspring.
Many examples of scorpions as they are represented in human thought and civilization are presented. Much Egyptian mythology involves scorpions, with the Egyptian goddess Serket originating as a deified scorpion. She is predictably depicted with a headdress shaped like a scorpion. “Scorpion” is one of the most challenging poses in yoga, requiring great strength and balance. Scorpions are often associated with weapons of war. Ancient shields and swords are often depicted scorpions. A Nigerian Army leader called The Black Scorpion was involved in numerous deaths. There are confirmed reports of scorpions being used in biological warfare, and a Chinese realtor in 2011 allegedly used scorpions as weapons in a property dispute. The Textron Airland Scorpion is a tactical jet now being developed.
Scorpions make many appearances in the arts and literature. The oldest art works in the United States, 6000-year-old Native American cave art in Tennessee, contain drawings of scorpions. In Islamic art, scorpions can have a “positive symbolism suggesting triumph over evil.” In Stanley Spencer's Christ in the Wilderness: The Scorpion, Jesus cradles a scorpion in his hands. Lorenzo Bartolini sculpted a marble figure, Nymph With a Scorpion. Numerous films have scorpion connections, among them Diamonds Are Forever, Skyfall, and the Scorpion King series. An episode of The Simpsons featured supervillain Hank Scorpio. Scorpions appear in tattoos on 4000-year-old mummies and on many people today. The Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, more than 3000 years old, contains references to hybridized human-scorpion creatures called Scorpion Men. Surviving Mayan records depict a giant scorpion monster in the Madrid Codex. Several biblical passages mention scorpions, sometimes as symbols and other times as the actual animals. John Milton's Paradise Lost alludes to the scorpion, and in Lord Byron's poem The Giaour, the scorpion kills itself. Shakespeare's Macbeth laments to Lady Macbeth, “Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife.” In Rudyard Kipling's short story The Children of the Zodiac, the scorpion kills the bull.
For many millennia, people have looked to the night skies, observing and telling stories of the figures they see in the stars. The astrology and mythology of many cultures include references to scorpions, and it is the eighth sign of the zodiac in Western astrology. Besides myself, people born under this sign include Whoopi Goldberg, Daniel Boone, Marie Curie, Bill Gates, and Hillary Clinton.