Sudden floods from a rare storm in Egypt have flushed swarms of scorpions from their underground burrows into people’s homes. In addition to forcing the arachnids into close contact with people, the heavy rainfall and hail damaged buildings, toppled trees, destroyed roads, and cut off electricity. In a single night, the venomous, four-inch-long scorpions stung more than 500 locals.
Hundreds of residents in the Egyptian city Aswan were transferred to hospitals to receive anti-venom injections. Egypt’s Ministry of Health says they have a large reserve of anti-venom, noting that more than 3,000 doses were available in Aswan, according to Al Jazeera. Though local and international media have reported three scorpion-related deaths in the region, Acting Health Minister Khalid Abdel-Ghafar said in a statement that no deaths were attributed to the stings.
Egypt’s dozens of scorpion species thrive in desert dwellings underground or beneath rocks, and can survive for weeks with no food or water, per Vivian Yee and Nada Rashwan for the New York Times. Normally, the Aswan area receives just one millimeter of rainfall per year, making Friday’s heavy thunder and hail storms a rare event. Experts believe the rising water sent the arachnids searching for dry land, fleeing from their preferred desert landscape into mountainside villages.
“It was just an hour of rain, but it wrecked everything,” says Islam Mohamed, who pilots one of the many small boats on the Nile around Aswan, to the New York Times.
Thought to be the deadliest scorpions on Earth, the fat-tailed scorpions in the genus Androctonus are of particular concern. Because the arachnids have poor vision, smell and hearing, they rely on vibrations and sound to locate their prey. One local species, the Arabian fat-tailed scorpion, wields a highly toxic venom capable of killing an adult within an hour of being stung, reports Mindy Weisberger for Live Science. Those who are stung experience severe pain at the sting site, high fever, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea.
“We’re just used to it,” Mohamed tells the Times. “We just hit them with something when we see them.”
Though fat-tailed scorpions are a common sight in the region, hundreds of stings in a single night is unprecedented—though such events may be more common in the future. Experts attribute the unusally high rainfall in Aswan to human-caused climate change. Already this year the changing climate has hurt Egypt’s olive harvests, killed stretches of farmland, and made Egypt's sweltering summers even hotter.