Camel spiders: The Myths and Facts

The first camel spiders I ever saw were in Somalia. After being told spiders were living nearby that were big enough to kill and eat the wild dogs of the region, I kept a wary eye out. I won’t say I bought the scary story as the whole truth; years as a U.S. Marine had exposed me to many such “seas stories.” However, I kept an eye peeled, especially outdoors or slipping under the sheets at night.

The actual camel spiders I saw in Mogadishu were only about half a foot in length, but the mandibles were the stuff of legend.

In the decades that have passed, the mythology of camel spiders has only grown larger and scarier. As U.S. troops entered Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, reports and photos (taken out of perspective) told terrific stories of a spider that could run faster than a man and easily jump upon his back.

None of it was true, and no single camel was ever run down, caught, and had its stomach torn open and consumed by camel spiders.

But the myths survive, even today.

Camel spiders
Zeria loveridgei
Hectonichus – Own work CC BY-SA 3.0 File:Solpugidae – Zeria loveridgei.JPG Created: 5 August 2014

Hectonichus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, File:Solpugidae – Zeria loveridgei.JPG,Created: 5 August 2014.

Camel spiders: Myths.

Chances are you came here to find out the truth about camel spiders, so I’ll begin there.

Camel spider myth #1: Their venom is highly toxic. Camel spiders can only bite their prey and have no venom; their mandibles are not designed to inject venom.

Camel spider myth # 2: Camel spiders can and will chase down humans and (of course) camels. Yes, and no. While there are reports of camel spiders reaching a speed of nearly ten mph, the Smithsonian would be better served not relying on them, lest they be considered “fake news.” A six-inch-long arachnid does not pursue anything other than much smaller prey. And this top speed is for very short distances.

Camel spider myth #3: If you are bit by a camel spider, all the flesh and muscle around the wound will fall off. In truth, simple first aid will treat the pain and prevent infection. All the rest is hokum.

Camel spider myth #4: Camel spider can leap up to eight feet into the air. The fact that camel spiders can’t even jump high enough to get onto the step of a tracked vehicle just isn’t as interesting as the wildly exaggerated image of some poor Marine Corporal being covered by camel spiders leaping up and on top of their head.

Camel spider myth # 5: Camel spiders scream as they make their attacks. This scream is a stridulation. While most spiders are silent, tarantulas and other spiders can produce low-frequency sounds by flexing their abdomens, and these sounds can (although infrequently) be heard nearly 20 feet away. Camel spiders in particular produce this should using the chelicerae (see below).

Camel Spider myth # 6: Camel spiders are called camel spiders because they attach themselves to the bellies of camels and lay their eggs under their skin. There is one simple and perfectly understandable reason camel spiders ride along on a camel’s back—shade. It’s also why most soldiers first noticed camel spiders when they spotted them standing in their shadows or under their vehicles.

Camel spider
Egyptian giant solpugids (Galeodes Arabs), wind scorpion or camel spider macro shot close up in the united arab emirates in the middle east. Photo credit: Photos

What are camel spiders?

Camel spiders are Solifugae (Latin for”those who fell from the Sun”), an order of animal in the call of Arachnida. There are over 1,000 species, and they are commonly known as sun spiders and wind scorpions—even though they are neither true scorpions nor spiders.

Camel spiders are primarily nocturnal and flee from the sun.

Camel spiders reside in arid climates and feed on other insects and small mammals. 

While most commonly found in Middle Eastern deserts, camel spiders live in the southwestern United States and Mexico as well. Camel spiders are primarily nocturnal and flee from the sun.

Camel spider: Description.

Camel spiders have an average body length of two inches but can be much larger or smaller. They consist of two central morphologically distinct regions: The cephalothorax and the abdomen. Camel spiders, like all solifuges, lack the connecting tube between these two regions and the spinnerets and silk of other spiders.

At first glance, camel spiders appear to have ten legs, but the two other “legs” are actually pedipalps and act as sensory organs.

Camel spider
 Camel spider fangs
Camel spider chelicerae. Not true scorpions. Exotic veterinarian examines a sun spider ‘s fangs, vet. Biologist. wind scorpion, solifugae, arthropods, invertebrates. bug, insect, animal, wildlife. Photo credit: MYM

The Mouth of the camel spider.

The camel spider’s chelicerae (the “jaws”) resemble pincers, but unlike venomous spiders, they contain no venom gland and are not hollow (to deliver the poison). 

The jaws of the camel spider are one of its most distinctive and feared features and are (see the first photo above) longer than its head. The two chelicerae each form a pincer containing a variable number of teeth that can cut through the bones of smaller birds.

By moving its head from side to side, the camel spider operates each pincer in opposition to the other. As one advances and opens, the other closes and tears at its prey. 

Camel spiders are carnivores and eat small birds, lizards, and rodents. The do not use or possess venom; instead, they tear their prey to pieces by sawing and chopping it with their jaws. They then use digestive juices to liquefy their prey and suck up the remaining flesh.

Camel spider
The camel spider (Rhagoderma tricolor) feeding on a cricket. Photo credit: Micalek

Camel spider taxonomy.

From the Integrated Taxonomic Information System – Report

Taxonomic Hierarchy  

  Kingdom Animalia – Animal, animaux, animals  

  Subkingdom Bilateria   

  Infrakingdom Protostomia   

  Superphylum Ecdysozoa   

  Phylum Arthropoda – Artrópode, arthropodes, arthropods  

  Subphylum Chelicerata – cheliceriformes, quelicerado, queliceriforme  

  Class Euchelicerata   

  Subclass Arachnida – araignées, aracnídeo, arachnids, arácnidos  

  Order Solifugae Sundevall, 1833 – sun-spiders, camel-spiders, wind-scorpions, solifuges  

  Direct Children:  

  Family Ammotrechidae Roewer, 1934  

  Family Ceromidae Roewer, 1933  

  Family Daesiidae Kraepelin, 1899  

  Family Eremobatidae Kraepelin, 1901  

  Family Galeodidae Sundevall, 1833  

  Family Gylippidae Roewer, 1933  

  Family Hexisopodidae Pocock, 1897  

  Family Karschiidae Kraepelin, 1899  

  Family Melanoblossiidae Roewer, 1933  

  Family Mummuciidae Roewer, 1934  

  Family Protosolpugidae Petrunkevitch, 1953  

  Family Rhagodidae Pocock, 1897  

  Family Solpugidae Leach, 1815  

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Dennis V. Gilmore Jr.

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr. is a former Marine Sergeant and the author of several books, including two on night hunting coyotes and red and gray fox. He has written several hundred articles on predator hunting for

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