Many of us have seen the infamous picture of what looks like a Camel Spider as long as a man's thigh. Shortly before I went to the MidEast, I must have received that picture a couple of dozen times. Unlike the worried friends and relatives sending them, I was able to recognize forced perspective, and was not worried.
The creature often called a Camel Spider is actually one of the Solifugae, with about 900 species in that order. While they look like spiders, they are a different order than the Araneae. Solifugae are called Camel Spiders, Sun Spiders and Wind Scorpions. Solifugae normally live in the warm tropical and semi-tropical regions, preferring warm or dry regions, though they are also found in forests and grasslands.
They are known for the two long limbs on the front, ending in claws that function roughly the same as those of a scorpion. Solifugae also have long pedipalps, a sort of sensory antennae with the appearance of additional legs. These are tipped with adhesive tips to help the claws trap the prey.
They are carnivorous, or at least omnivorous, depending on the exact species, and are nocturnal. Their normal prey includes termites, beetles and other small arthropods. The Solifugae will find the prey with the long pedipalps, and then use the chelicerae, the limbs tipped with the pincers, to kill and chop up their prey. They prey is then liquefied and consumed.
Early in the invasion of Iraq, soldiers sleeping on the ground were horrified by the relentless attacks by Solifugae. It was later explained that the Solifugae were seeking a good source of shade and hiding under soldiers and sleeping bags from the sun. As soon as the shade goes away, the Solifugae will also. Those few cases of soldiers "bitten" bit a Camel Spider were all cases where the creature was trapped, either by a soldier holding it or a soldier accidentally trapping one in a sleeping bag.
There are a great many myths about these creatures. Despite the infamous photo, the biggest are about 12cm across including legs. They are fast, and can reach 10 miles per hour, as good as a sprinting human. They cannot keep up with a HUMMWV. They do not inject venom into sleeping humans and consume the deadened flesh, they do not attack prey larger than themselves and there is only a single species of Solifugae, in India, that may, according to some research, be venomous.
Extensive search has failed to find other examples. No known Solifugae produce an anesthetic. They will bit humans, but only when handled, in an attempt to escape. The wounds are much like crabs produce, and the ragged tears are prone to infection. The solution is simply not to try and pick them up. They do not leap into the air, hiss loudly and disembowel camels. These are simply the kind of stories told to tease newbies and entertain bored veterans. Despite the similar appearance to spiders, Solifugae do not spin webs of any kind.
- Anon Military Correspondent
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