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: Myths.
Chances are you came here to find out the truth about camel spiders, so I’ll begin there.
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.
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.
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.
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 taxonomy.
Kingdom Animalia – Animal, animaux, animals
Phylum Arthropoda – Artrópode, arthropodes, arthropods
Subphylum Chelicerata – cheliceriformes, quelicerado, queliceriforme
Subclass Arachnida – araignées, aracnídeo, arachnids, arácnidos
Order Solifugae Sundevall, 1833 – sun-spiders, camel-spiders, wind-scorpions, solifuges
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
Spider pages: Learn how to identify and avoid these spiders.