Sonoran Preserve Trails Phoenix

Dangers of the Sonoran Desert: A Painful Encounter With A Scorpion

Living in Phoenix, we are usually aware of the dangers of the Sonoran Desert. But no matter how aware of prepared we think we are, we can’t always avoid all the dangers. Scorpion encounters in Phoenix are so common, we have exterminators specifically dealing with them.

I heard plenty of stories of scorpion infestations of people’s homes; I know a few people who got stung in their yard. I’ve even seen them in my own apartment when we lived near North Mountain.

But in almost thirty years of living in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, I had no personal encounters with scorpions in Phoenix. Until recently.

A few weeks ago I got bit by a scorpion. In an enormous metropolitan city in the middle of the desert environment where these creatures thrive, it’s surprising it took so long for this to happen. On the other hand, I could’ve gone my whole life without the experience, if I had been more careful.

Scorpions were here before us

The Sonoran Desert had been the home of scorpions long before we showed up and built a city here. They didn’t go anywhere, so we learned to live with them. We coexist. Peacefully, for the most part.

After living in Phoenix for almost three decades, I got stung by a scorpion

If I knew it was a scorpion on the inside of my shirt on my back, I probably could’ve removed it; or asked my daughter who was with me, to remove it. Or, I could’ve shaken it off. After all, the scorpions are not out there to bite us. But then, this would not be a story. Or, at its best, it would be: “I found a scorpion on the shirt on my back.”

However, when I felt something touching my back inside my shirt, I assumed it was a piece of desert shrub, or a piece of jumping cholla. We were near some, after all. So I reached back to remove it. And, of course, I grabbed it, and, as I did, I broke it. I still had no clue what it was, but part of it was stuck in my finger.

A sharp pain, like a bee-sting was the original reaction, when I realized it was not a cactus thorn. But it was no bee, either. I knew it was a creature with venom. I felt it, as I screamed in pain – and from the terror of seeing something stuck in my finger I could not remove.

A Scooby-Doo Mystery

At this point, I still had no idea what it was, and I couldn’t pull it out. In retrospect, I should’ve left it for the time being, but I was in excruciating pain and just wanted it off. As I touched it, it freaked me out even more, since it was round and squishy, though it didn’t move like a live creature. As I finally pulled it off my finger, I knew the stinger broke off and remained embedded in my skin.

My daughter proved that she could act in emergency. Instead of losing her head, she watched me for reactions, she called her dad – who was hiking ahead of us – and asked him to turn around in case they had to take me to an emergency care. I was lucky: seems like I’m not particularly allergic to scorpion venom. Other then my finger swelling three times its size, and my palm and nearby fingers tingling, I had no other reaction. If you don’t count the pain, of course, but that was to be expected.

For a while though the question of what stung me remained a Scooby-Doo mystery, since we didn’t go back to look for the creature I dropped to the ground. We finally solved the mystery after my pain subsided and I was able to think.

Mystery solved: it was a scorpion!

First clue was my daughter telling me it looked like only part of a creature (plus she couldn’t find information on anything that lived in the desert resembling the part stuck in my finger). When she said that, I remembered I crushed it and it broke it off, so of course it only part of it remained embedded in my finger.

I also realized that what I touched when trying to get out of my skin was round and squishy, like the venom bulb of a scorpion stinger. And I even squeezed it trying to get it off. Wouldn’t have done it if I knew what I was touching.

The final clue was the first one: I felt exactly like my friend described her scorpion-bite a few years ago, and by next day my finger looked like hers did.

Mystery solved about what stung me, the episode became a good story.

However, regardless if the story would’ve been “I found a scorpion on my shirt”, or “I got stung by a scorpion”, I still would’ve written this post as a reminder of all the things you need to be aware of when hiking in the desert.

Try not to get stung, but know how to handle it if you do

Scorpion bites are extremely painful, and dangerous for those allergic to their venom, but they are rarely deadly. Still, it’s worth being aware of them, and if you don’t know what’s on your shirt on your back, ask someone to take a look and take it off.

Scorpions rarely bite, some people even keep them as pets. Tongs work great for removing them if you find them in your house – which many people in Phoenix do. I remember seeing tiny baby ones in our apartment when we lived near North Mountain. I was always able to get them out of the apartment without getting stung once.

So, as long as you are aware of them, and don’t grab one, you should be fine.

What to do if a scorpion stings you

No matter how careful you are, you are still in the Sonoran Desert, and you may get stung.

Screaming is ok, though it doesn’t help (but for whatever reason, it feels good – or I couldn’t help it). What helps is, trying to identify it, and making sure the stinger is out. (I didn’t, I’m sure mine is still in my finger – I can actually see it, but as long as it doesn’t hurt, I figure my body will expel it or dissolve it eventually – but don’t follow my lead in this).

If you have a reaction besides a hurt and swollen finger, go to the nearest emergency care facility. Otherwise ice it to keep the swelling to minimum. It will be swollen anywhere between three days to two weeks. But after the first few days it shouldn’t hurt, though it might be tender to the touch.

Scorpion stings cause immediate local pain and swelling. You may also feel numbness and tingling on the sting and in the surrounding area. The injured area will most likely be very sensitive to touch, pressure, heat and cold. To treat it, if you are home, wash the area with soap and water, use a cool compress, and take pain medication if you need to (I didn’t, but by the time I got home I didn’t need it).

However, watch for reactions, like shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, blurred vision, sweating, vomiting, accelerated or irregular heartbeat, and if you experience any of these, go to an emergency care facility.

Or, to be on the safe side, call the Arizona poison and drug information center (or search their database), for advice.


I am not a health care professional. For medical advice, call the poison information center or an emergency care facility. Everything described above was my own personal experience.

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