Camel spiders are a global sensation due to online viral feeds. There are many urban legends and exaggerations about their size, speed, behavior, appetite and lethality. But the real deal is just as interesting.
The camel spider is not an actual spider, but a ‘solifugae’, meaning ‘those that flee from the sun’. Also called sun spiders and wind scorpions, camel spiders were first found in the Middle East and later in the sandy areas of the South West United States and Mexico.
Nearly 900 species have been discovered. They have been called camel spiders because they were originally found in regions where camels are native, not because the spiders feed on the stomachs of camels as popularly perceived.
Bite victims can rest easy. The camel spider is not venomous in nature. In fact, they hardly cross paths with humans due to their habit preference. Camel spiders are not dangerous to humans and will only bite in self defense. The danger of being bitten by a camel spider is minimal.
They, however, have a powerful set of jaws called chelicerae, about one third of their body weight. A large camel spider can inflict a painful nip, but nothing that needs medical attention.
Appearance and behavior
Different myths and stories about camel spiders began to spread during the Gulf war and resurfaced at the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.
Camel spiders are usually about 6 inches in length when fully grown. They can run at an average of 10 mph. That’s about one third the speed of a professional marathon athlete. They are beige to brown in color.
The camel spider’s body is very hairy, down to its legs. Females are usually larger than males, with longer legs.
Before breeding, females will overfeed, as they will not hunt when reproducing. Males breed directly or deposit a sperm packet and pass it to the female with their chelicerae. A female camel spider can lay anywhere from 50 to 200 eggs. She will guard the eggs until they hatch.
Camel spiders are nocturnal, seeking shelter during the hot hours of the day and hunting at night. They will seek any form of shade when the opportunity arises, including human shadows. This gives the false impression of camel spiders following and even attacking humans.
Very little is known of camel spiders. This is because it’s very difficult to keep them alive in controlled conditions. Although they are not dangerous, camel spiders are subject to vilification and death as humans fear them.
Depending on the species, some camel spiders are carnivorous and some are omnivorous. The vast majority of species prey on termites, beetles, other insects and anthropods. Large species are opportunistic feeders and will feed on virtually anything captured.
Camel spiders will use their powerful jaws to seize their victims and turn them to pulp in a chopping and sewing motion. They are not venomous but will utilize digestive fluids to liquefy their victim’s flesh. This makes it easy to suck the remains into their stomachs.