It looked like a terribly overcooked crayfish. Actually, it looked like something out of a nightmare.
Its armor-like exoskeleton gleaming black, its claws splayed out in front of it and its jointed tail curling over its back, tipped with a stinger that was visible to the naked eye, the emperor scorpion sat in the little plastic box at the pet store in Rome.
I hadn't noticed it at first. I hadn't noticed the box of live crickets that apparently were waiting to be its dinner, either. The person I was with noticed them, and when I started looking around for something that would eat them (assuming that there's not that great a demand for pet crickets), I saw the scorpion.
At first I recoiled with the natural reaction of someone who has seen something repulsive. But then, with the perverse fascination that repulsive things sometimes evoke, I examined the creature more closely.
A closer examination didn't make it any prettier, but it did affix the scorpion's image in my mind's eye. So, the next time I had access to the Internet, I entered "emperor scorpion" into my favorite search engine.
As it turns out, I'm not the only one apparently fascinated by this creeping horror.
I don't think I'm libeling the emperor scorpion by labeling it a "creeping horror." According to "Petbugs.com" one of 98,900 Web pages listed from my search "These scorpions are popular animals in scary movies, because they are big, black, and they can have close contact with actors."
But despite its popularity as a nemesis for buxom blondes in horror flicks, Petbugs.com is quite enthusiastic about the bug which technically is an arachnid (like spiders) rather than an insect.
"If you are choosing a scorpion, the Emperor Scorpion won't let you down," says the site, as if it were referring to a car or a washing machine. Personally, I can't imagine why someone would be "choosing a scorpion" in the first place.
But to each his own, the old saw goes. Different strokes for different folks, they say. They also might say, at least in the case of the emperor scorpion, don't judge a bug by its exoskeleton.
Despite its frightening appearance, compared to some other scorpions, the emperor is fairly harmless. Petbugs.com says that "most people are not affected by (the venom of) this species."
Actually, says DesertUSA.com, only about 21 of the approximately 1,300 scorpion species are considered dangerous to humans. And only one of those lives in the U.S. in the deserts of Arizona, extreme southeastern California and perhaps in Utah.
However, KidsHealth.org says a person should see a doctor if he is ever stung by any scorpion, since it's hard to tell poisonous and non-poisonous ones apart. A doctor can administer medicine to ease the pain and, if necessary, control allergic reactions to the venom.
Which brings me back to the emperor scorpion. Petbugs.com notes that although the emperor is generally considered harmless, "some people may be allergic to the venom, or just more sensitive, making it a dangerous situation."
For this reason, the site says, while the emperor scorpion is "one of the only species of scorpion that is known to be handled this is not recommended."
After my close encounter with that hideous thing in Rome, all I can say is, don't worry about me. I may be fascinated, but I'm not stupid.
Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.