Camel spiders are tricky creatures. These desert arachnids look like they have ten legs, but two of these limbs are really pedipalps, sensors that help them locate prey. They’re called spiders, but they’re not part of the same order of species as a tarantula or a wolf spider. Instead of fangs, they have powerful jaws. Apologies for the nightmare fodder—despite their fearsome appearance, they’re not actually very dangerous, unless you’re the size of a grasshopper. Here are 15 intriguing facts about camel spiders:
1. They’re not actually spiders.
Camel spiders are arachnids, like true spiders, but belong to a different taxon called solifuges.
2. They are sprinters.
They can run up to 10 miles an hour, according to some scientific reports.
3. Their jaws make up a third of their bodies.
The arachnids can grow up to six inches long, and up to a third of their length is taken up by their terrifying jaws.
4. They go by many names.
Camel spiders are also called sun spiders, wind scorpions, beard cutters, or the “Kalahari Ferrari.”
5. They can eat entire rodents.
Solifuges eat insects and fellow arachnids as well as lizards, snakes, and rodents. The ferocious camel spider will kill and eat poisonous and aggressive creatures, including scorpions and centipedes. They’re skilled climbers and can scale walls and trees in search of prey.
6. They are found all over the world.
Camel spiders have garnered quite a bit of attention since the start of the Iraq War. In 2004, a widely debunked image of a camel spider said to be found by American soldiers in Iraq began circulating, along with rumors that the spiders were eating human flesh. In reality, the spiders don’t pose much of a threat to humans, since they’d much rather munch on something more bite-sized. And solifuges aren’t limited to the deserts of Iraq. There are species found in the desert regions of every continent but Australia and Antartica.
7. They’re not venomous.
They may look tough, but unlike some of their spider brethren, they aren't poisonous. If you really piss one off, it might inflict a painful bite, but that’s about it.
8. There are many different species.
Scientists have found about 1100 solifuge species.
9. Their jaws have 80 named parts.
In a study of 188 camel spiders by the American Museum of Natural History from this year, researchers proposed 80 different terms to describe different parts of their sharp-toothed, hairy jaws.
10. They’ve been known to chase people.
While camel spiders do sometimes follow people around, it’s not because they’re on the hunt. They’re just trying to use your shadow to evade the hot sun.
11. They’re very hard to study in captivity.
It’s hard to keep camel spiders alive in the lab so that they can be studied. As an entomologist told LiveScience, “they are quite the divas and require princess-like accommodations to be kept alive.” No doubt this is one of the reasons why camel spiders are not very well studied.
12. During World War I, soldiers placed bets on solifuge fights.
Troops stationed in Egypt and Libya during World War I would capture camel spiders and force them to fight each other or scorpions, placing bets on the winners, zoologist Fred Punzo writes in The Biology of Camel Spiders: Arachnida, Solifugae.
13. They detect their prey through vibration.
Though they do also use sight, one of the main methods camel spiders use to locate prey is substrate vibrations. Because of this, solifuges sometimes don’t notice potential meals if the insect stops moving. In laboratories, camel spiders have occasionally been convinced to eat dead insects by manually moving them.
14. South African lore holds that camel spiders love hair.
“Afrikaaners in South Africa called them 'haarkseerder' (hair-cutters) because many believed that the solifuges were attracted to the long hair of women where they could become entangled, forcing them to use their strong jaws to cut through the hair in order to escape,” Punzo writes.
15. They might have been mentioned in the Old Testament.
In 1797, zoologist Anton August Heinrich Lichtenstein hypothesized that the Philistine plague of mice referred to in the Old Testament was actually solifuges. The large, hairy arachnids could be mistaken for rodents in some lights, though not everyone agrees with the theory.