Dispelling several myths about the camel spider, or solifugid.
Are camel spiders actually spiders? They don’t look like spiders. And do they actually live inside camels?
Camel spiders, also known as wind scorpions and sun spiders, are not in fact a type of spider or scorpion, but a more distantly related type of arachnid. Their order is more officially known as the Solifugae, from the Latin sol + fugare, meaning ‘those that flee from the sun’.
Solifugids are found in warm desert and semidesert regions of all continents with the exception of Australia and Antarctica. Like spiders, they possess only two body segments – the abdomen and the prosoma, or cephalothorax (a combined head and thorax). Although they appear to have five pairs of legs, the foremost pair are in fact elongated pedipalps, sensory organs similar to an insect’s antennae. While spiders, scorpions and other similar arachnids have two large chelicerae (fangs), in the solifugids these are adapted into two sets of toothed pincers.
Solifugids’ surprising speed and unsettling appearance have sparked numerous urban legends, most of them from soldiers who encountered them during the Gulf War or invasion of Iraq. Their size and speed have often been exaggerated (the largest are around 12cm long, and have a top speed of around 10 mph). Other legends involve them being able to scream, and jump into the air to bite into a camel’s belly and disembowel it in order to eat its organs (some versions of this story include the camel spiders breeding parasitically in the camel’s stomach). Other stories include their bite being poisonous, or that their jaws secrete an anaesthetic, allowing the camel spiders to eat parts of sleeping people without waking them (no solifugids contain any venom of any kind). While solifugids will nip if provoked, they do not seek out humans, and their bite is not considered to be dangerous.