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There's a society similar to ancient Egypt. Most soldiers are either skirmishers with slings or shortbows, or "heavy infantry" with spears and big shields, but wearing the same loincloths as the skirmishers. War chariots and big beasts like elephants exist, but they are rare and they don't get involved in most battles, at least in significant numbers.

Barbarians living on the periphery of this civilisation fight as skirmishers (valued as mercenaries for that!) and use a scorpion poison for their arrows. The poison doesn't stay active long enough after leaving the scorpion's body, so they partially domesticated scorpions. Trained scorpion-tamers hunt scorpions, place them in a scorpion farm and gather poison just before the battle. But this indirect use of scorpions is not what I'm asking about.

Perhaps this tactics was invented when some enemies attacked a scorpion farm: the scorpion tamers learnt to throw the scorpions. This is not very handy against skirmishers, but throwing few scorpions has a devastating effect on morale of a unit of "heavy infantry". Usually done just before allied heavy unit attacks the group running from scorpions or trying to kill them. Also, thrown scorpions can spook a war elephant, making it a neutral force attacking everyone, not just us.

After scorpion-throwers became relatively common, an invasion occured. The invaders wear chainmails, their heavy infantry is trained to cut through our spears and shields with their steel swords, their archers wield longbows or crossbows and their cavalry is clearly superior to our chariotry. Elephants are quite efficient, but after few battles they learnt the "road" tactics, so the elephant runs through empty space and leaves battlefield while the mahout catches a bolt or two. Guerilla tactics is better, but pitched battles can't be avoided all the time. So let's use the secret weapon: scorpions!

Now the questions:

  • is throwing scorpions realistic? I assume catching the scorpion's tail and then a sling-like throw. Or would you suggest any other technique? Is it something that ordinary tribesman (not ordinary civilized man like me or most of you) with some training can do, does it require specialists chosen for their dexterity, or is this feat risky even for the best ones?
  • what scorpion species is ideal for this? It's fantasy, so we are not limited to Earth's species, but I don't assume our scorpions to be much different. They can be slightly bigger, perhaps with slightly different behavior (easier to tame), and their poison should be either a known real scorpion poison, or something other that makes sense (some of snake poisons?).
  • as a shieldwall breaker, will it be as efficient as I think? I expect the thrown scorpions to get killed or at least to use all their poison in the rage just after landing, so unless the thrower gets killed or seriously injured before throwing the scorpions, they won't hinder our soldiers from crushing the enemy unit.
  • how much efficient will it be against the armored enemies?
  • is it as good "elephant spooker" as I thought?

In fact, I expect scorpion throwing to become obsolete after invention of some primitive Molotov cocktail few decades after the invasion, but I'm interested how useful it will be before that.

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  • 3
    $\begingroup$ +1, an interesting idea. One thing that might help your arachophile desert folk: a resin which calms scorpions (like smoke for bees) for safe handling. It might let them store groups of scorpions in a box without fraternal murders. You mention that it's a fantasy setting; transforming live scorpions into arrowheads which revert when jarred would make for easy logistics. $\endgroup$ – user243 Aug 17 '15 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ There's some very in-depth and IMO slightly dubious descriptions of exactly how this would "have to be done". Frankly, far too complex. Rather, when advancing on an opponent's block of heavy infantry someone in your line should have a bucket of scorpions. Lets say enough to mostly cover the bottom. When you're close enough, they throw the bucket of scorpions over the enemy. Maybe the scorpioneer could be expected to dart out from his own line as the lines close in order to perform the action. Maybe the bucket should have a lid. Simple is best. $\endgroup$ – Grimm The Opiner May 23 '17 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ less effective than just using the poison on a grooved arrow. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 29 '18 at 17:40
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A box full of scorpions

The first step is to wear apropriated gloves. Grabing a scorpion with your bare hand is dangerous, so you should use gloves to avoid being stinged and poisoned when handling them.

If it is a large bag or box with thousands of scorpions inside, most of them would poison their peers and other would be suffocated. Further, they would be hurted by the movements induced in the bag or box when the skirmisher is walking, running or fighting and be shaken and crushed around inside the bag. The result is that when the battle begins, most of the scorpions would already be dead or very injured and the progress of the battle just makes things worse. Further, even if they happen to survive and be in good health, the surviving ones would probably be moving frenetically in panic trying to leave the bag or box. Putting your hand inside a bag or a box full of living scorpions trying to escape in panic don't seems to be a good idea, even when wearing gloves. So clearly, a simple bag or box for carrying the scorpions won't do. The skirmishers would need to bring specially constructed bags or cages for the scorpions.

So, the scorpion tamers would need to have an special bag to carry the scorpions in the battle. Ideally, this bag would be a box designed to protect the scorpions from impacts, shakes and crushings induced by its wearer walking, running or fighting and also to protect each scoripon from each other scorpion. Also, the scorpions should not suffocate. This could be achieved by making it a rigid cage (so it would not deform significantly) with a cell-like, grid-like or beehive-like structure, where each scorpion is completely immobilized in its own cell. The cell is internally coated by some soft material. Further, each cell has a small hole to the outside to ensure air circulation and should be designed in a way that the skirmisher should be able to safely, easily and quickly release and grab the scorpion.

It would be something like the following picture:

Scorpion box

The inner walls (pink) and the inner floor (yellow) would be made of some soft material to absorb impacts that could injure the scorpion (red). The front wall has a hole to ensure air circulation. You can see that the scorpion is immobilized by the gray wires that act like a seatbelt on them and restrain their movements. Also, the gray wires have some supports against the cell's floor to avoid crushing the scorpion. The wire are held firmly by the two blue scrows. This box is open in the top and the reason is because it would work like a matchbox. Each cell would really be two boxes, where the outer one has the bottom, top and the two lateral sides but is open in the front and back, while the inner box is open just at the top. With this design, to grab a scorpion, you just get the box, open it just like you would do with a matchbox, and grab the scorpion by getting its tail with your thumb and pointer fingers while bending and breaking the gray wires.

The size of the great box would depend on the number of cells present, and hence, the number of scorpions. Sometimes, larger boxes would be desired over small ones if the skirmishers would need to entrench or go into missions were they need to take a large number of scorpions. Sometimes, smaller boxes would be desired over larger ones because the skirmishers would need to go to battle in a way where saving weight is important and there is a cart full of scorpion boxes nearby. Also, some soldiers might personally prefer to work with smaller boxes while some others would prefer larger ones.

Dexterity

Opening a matchbox is very easy to do. It would need some practice to appropriately grab the scorpion from the matchbox in just a few seconds without hurting it or accidentally dropping it on the ground or anything like that (and please, do not forget the gloves!) Anyway, this is something that anyone can possibly master even with only a couple hours of training.

Throwing scorpions

Throwing scorpions with your bare hands is realistic only in a very few handful cases. Might be useful when there is a wall of shields marching towards your army. When they are close enough, your soldiers throws the scorpions over the shields, and immediatelly attack using whichever weapons they have in their hands, possibly running backwards to get a few more seconds in order to allow the scorpions sting the enemies.

Scorpions aren't very aerodynamic and will present a lot of air resistance when thrown out. With this, no one would likely be able to throw a scorpion farther than something like 5 to 8 meters. If you use a sling, you might be able to reach something like 10 meters. If you attach a small stone to the scorpion and throw the stone with the sling, you might reach 20 or maybe 30 meters, but this will likely also kill the scorpion.

Attaching it to a javelin that somehow release the attached scorpion or scorpions only when it hit the ground is probably more effective, since they might land softly enough to allow at least part of the scorpions survive the trip and then detach from the javelin to walk and sting around wherever they landed. This has the advantage that even if the enemies protect themselves with shields from the javelins, the released scorpions might end walking over the shields into the soldiers hands or fall into their heads, destroying their morale and making them shake and scream in panic instead.

For a hand grenade, it should be done of a material that absorves most of the impact while releasing the scorpions alive. I can't think of a material that have the right properties and not be something high-tech. The best that I can think is a ball of mud full of scorpions that would splat when hit the target with at least something like a third of the scorpions surviving. However it can't be prepared prior to the battle and stored because the scorpions would either die from suffocation inside the mud or escape, and this makes it completely unsuitable for any serious use as hand grenades.

Catapulting individual scorpions against an army is also likely to be useless. If you already have a catapult, then you would be better to simply throw stones instead. However catapulting a mud-grenade or a cow carcass full of scorpions over a wall in a siege might work as a way to frighten the enemy and luckly make some of them stinged.

It might be interesting in arrows. The scorpions could be already glued to arrow tips in their box by theirs stings, and then the archer would remove the arrow tip from its matchbox, break the scorpion tail in order to keep the sting in the arrow while removing the rest of the unaerodynamic scorpion from it, then attach the arrow tip to the rest of the arrow and throw it with the bow. The result would be a poisoned arrow.

Also, scorpions might be useful to be thrown at the enemy when defending a fortification or stronghold against battering rams or enemies trying to dig under your wall. Normally, rocks, or boiling water or oils would be better, but scorpions will be more effective against their morale.

Which species?

Accordingly to wikipedia:

Sting and venom.

All known scorpion species possess venom and use it primarily to kill or paralyze their prey so that it can be eaten. In general, it is fast-acting, allowing for effective prey capture. However, as a general rule they will kill their prey with brute force if they can, as opposed to using venom. It is also used as a defense against predators. The venom is a mixture of compounds (neurotoxins, enzyme inhibitors, etc.) each not only causing a different effect but possibly also targeting a specific animal. Each compound is made and stored in a pair of glandular sacs and is released in a quantity regulated by the scorpion itself. Of the 1,000+ known species of scorpion, only 25 have venom that is deadly to humans; most of those belong to the family Buthidae (including Leiurus quinquestriatus, Hottentotta, Centruroides and Androctonus).

If they are meant to be throw by javelins or grenades to survive the travel and sting someone, smaller species are preferable. If they should be very visible to the enemy to lower their morale, then larger, easily visible scorpions are better. Also, it is easier to handle larger scorpions than smaller ones.

For the larger scorpions, a Deathstalker (Leiurus quinquestriatus) might be what you want, it is one of the most venomous scorpions and is large enough to be handled by your soldiers. Centruroides bicolor might also be suitable since it is large (but the power of his venom is still poorly studied). Hottentotta tamulus is also deadly venomous. Also, they color are quite distinctive to fright the morale of the enemy. If you want something black for nightly attacks, try Androctonus bicolor.

Also, see SeanR's comment:

If I absolutely had to weaponise a scorpion, it would be Parabuthus transvaalicus. Not the most potent but:

"LD 50 value for this species is reported to be 4.25 mg/kg. Due to it size, this scorpion can inject very large amounts of venom. NB! This species is able to squirt venom up to one meter away, and venom in the eyes can be very dangerous."

Also, accordingly to wikipedia, Parabuthus transvaalicus has 90 to 110 millimeters, which makes it a big and black or dark brown scorpion. Very good for nightly actions!

For small scorpions to put on javelins and mudballs, sorry. I don't know which species would be suitable. Centruroides suffusus might be suitable. Many species are not well studied and small scorpions with 4 cm or less are easily overlooked even by biologists.

Scorpions vs men and elephants

Scorpions work best against unarmored or lightly armored enemies. Against strongly armored enemies they are ineffective, except perhaps against their morale. They might work well with elephants, since their skin, although thick, is sensible to insect bites. However, a single scorpion will not kill an elephant because they are too big and massive for that, but they surely can be disturbed when stung.

This also means that your army would need to be enoughly armored to avoid that any accidental release means deaths and morale problems between your own men. Also, they should be trained about how to quickly kill escaping scorpions if needed and how to properly react if they let some scorpion accidentally escape.

Taming

Overall, I don't think that using scorpions would be an effective tactic. The scorpion does not have enough brain to be trained to don't attack the tamer but attack anyone else. Also, as noted in Steve Bird's answer, scorpions that are less likely to attack the tamer would also be less likely to attack the enemies and even the most agressive species might chose to flee instead of attack. Also, since you would need thousands and thousands of scorpions, taming then one by one would be expensive. So, the best is to farm an agressive and venomous specie and delivery them immobilized and untammed in the matchboxes.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good, +1! The boxes you propose will allow the tamers (who will fill the boxes, which requires much more skill) stay at the base - those people are likely to be experts, while the fighting will be done by elite, but still quite regular "scorpion infantry". But I didn't understand one thing: how to attach the scorpions to the scorpion to the javelin to land softly? $\endgroup$ – Pavel V. Aug 15 '15 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelV. The javelin lands quite softly with or without the scorpions. What is needed is some mechanism that release the scorpions only when the javelin lands. However, I don't know how that mechanism would work. Probably something that opens when the javelin tip is pressed/compressed released the scorpions. And yes, the tamers would be different people than the scorpion infantry. $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa Aug 15 '15 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ If I absolutely had to weaponise a scorpion, it would be Parabuthus Transvaalicus. Not the most potent but: "LD 50 value for this species is reported to be 4.25 mg/kg. Due to it size, this scorpion can inject very large amounts of venom. NB! This species is able to squirt venom up to one meter away, and venom in the eyes can be very dangerous." $\endgroup$ – SeanR Sep 8 '15 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ @SeanR Thanks for your comment. I edited my answer for that. $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa Sep 11 '15 at 3:11
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A few considerations that leap to mind;

  1. A scorpion wouldn't be very aerodynamic and so a thrown scorpion would have limited range (especially compared to a longbow or crossbow). Even if you employed a mechanical device to aid launching (sling, scorpion ballista, etc), it's not going to have the same range as an arrow or crossbow bolt. So you're going to lose in a ranged weapons exchange.

  2. Using too much force in the throw could kill the scorpion rendering it useless (espcially if it hit a shield or armor).

  3. Docile scorpions (re: easier to tame) that are less likely to sting their handlers would also be less likely to sting their intended targets.

  4. Even more aggressive scorpions would not necessarily choose to sting the person they were thrown at but might just flee instead.

  5. To be effective battlefield weapons the scorpion venom would need to be fatal (or at least incapacitating) fairly rapidly. If it takes several hours or days to take effect, the battle may be lost before it happens.

  6. Since the scorpions are effectively a "use it and lose it" weapon, there would need to be hundreds (if not thousands) of them available for each battle.

  7. Finally, a thrown scorpion wouldn't really be like a "handgrenade", which could kill/incapacitate multiple targets at once. It would actually be less effective than a poisoned arrow (which would be easier to handle, have greater range and could kill even without the poison taking effect).

While being hit by a scorpion shower might have a "what the..?" effect on those on the receiving end, I'm doubtful that it would be a battle winner in anything but very contrived circumstances.

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  • $\begingroup$ They are not intended to be used in archery duels and their main effect is to wreak havoc and make enemy drop shieldwall few moments before our melee force attacks, killing few people meanwhile is just a bonus. The direct effect on enemies with good morale will be marginal, as you suggest. I'll wait for other answers and perhaps accept this one. $\endgroup$ – Pavel V. Aug 15 '15 at 11:35
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Scorpions should be placed in fired clay containers and catapulted into the masses of enemy infantry or in front of the cavalry as they are forming up.

Because scorpions are very anti social, carrying masses in a bag or box will result in most of them killing each other, so either each soldier has a small box or bottle holding one scorpion apiece (then dropping it into the catapult "shell" just before firing), or some sort of specialized container for carrying multiple scorpions at once (as per Victor Stafusa's answer), and then loaded into the catapult "shell".

The shell, being brittle, will shatter into fragments on impact, and (especially against unarmoured opponents) be a threat in of itself, so the solders will likely crouch behind their shields to protect against razor sharp fragments flying around. The ground becomes littered with angry scorpions, who are now likely to sting the feet and ankles of the solders and the lower legs of horses and elephants. People and animals fleeing the stinging scorpions will break the cohesion of the enemy lines, and attacking an unorganized mob will be much easier than a solid shield wall or organized force of soldiers and cavalry. You won't want to charge right into the fleeing force, since you will run right into the scorpions, but flanking units attempting to swing around the sides and into the rear area can attack the fleeing forces, collapsing their moral and preventing them from reforming.

The armoured force you suggest will be far less affected by scorpions. Unless they do not wear boots or footgear, the armoured infantry and cavalry will be mostly immune to the stinging scorpions when in battle array or in marching order. The best way to use scorpions to attack them would be to somehow sneak small catapults close to their camps at night and fire scorpion "shells" into the camps, where the enemy are more likely to have stripped off their armour and other protection. Even in the morning, many casualties might be cased because scorpions have scuttled into the boots of the remaining enemy soldiers.

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If you are looking for scorpions as a psychological formation breaking tactic and as a way to deal with armor, I would say that it isn't the poison that is important, but the piercing strength of the tail. In a fantasy setting, you could make them be bred to exhibit extremely strong tail motions, enough to pierce through armor. Perhaps their bodies are covered in a carapace that allows them to survive the toss, and efficiently sink their legs into the armor.

This idea is super cool, and one idea that seemed interesting was a calming oil; you could calm them, position them into a straight, laid out position, and then aerodynamically fire them over the shields and into the centers of the formations.

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Caltrop Catapult Carpet.

  • The defenders, who are expert scorpion handlers, could first of all simply throw the scorpions to create a scorpion-caltrop carpet. This would be devastating to barefoot attackers.

  • Later they would develop hand catapults to increase their range.

  • Next, they could progress to a large mechanical catapult that fires many scorpions at once.

  • Then they realise the advantage of using bow and arrow. Initially they simply replace the arrowheads with severed scorpion tails that are tightly bound in place with twine.

  • Finally, they realise they can extract the poison and simply dip ordinary arrow heads into it.

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