With an intimidating appearance resembling a cross between a spider, a giant termite and also a scorpion, knowledge about the camel spider’s characteristics and behaviour have been dogged by folklore tales and myths that paint the creature to be a menacing terror.
The camel spider is falsely believed to be able to grow to as large as a dinner plate. Also thought to be venomous, camel spiders are supposedly able to numb their victims with anesthesia and feed on large mammals such as camels. Also, these creatures are said to be able to travel at speeds of 30 miles per hour and produce a terrifying scream when they run. There are also many tales documenting how camel spiders have haunted desert soldiers and are a horror to encounter. However, many of these stories stem from misunderstandings of these creatures, resulting in misconstrued perceptions.
Neither an insect, a spider nor a scorpion, the camel spider (Galeodes toelgi) belongs to a unique order of its own. They are called Solifugae and they fall under the class of Arachnids. Solifugae is a Latin term meaning those that flee from the sun, and this is highly characteristic of the camel spider. These creatures are largely nocturnal animals, preferring to hunt in the night. In the day camel spiders often scuttle for shelter and escape the heat by retreating under burrows and logs which they excavate themselves. Camel spiders can be found in the hot desert regions of the world (which is how they derive their name), such as in the desert regions of Southwest Asia and also the Middle East.
Camel spiders are aggressive creatures, but harmless to humans unless provoked or handled. They can grow up to 6-8 inches (approximately 15-20cm) and are distinguishable by their hairy legs and large pliers-like jaws. Despite its resemblance to a spider, camel spiders lack two distinct spider characteristics. They do not have silk nor venom glands. Camel spiders rely on their speed and powerful jaws to hunt.
With their noticeable jaws, camel spiders are highly capable of delivering a painful bite. Larger species with big jaws can easily puncture and tear skin which may cause infection if left untreated. Camel spiders also have a voracious appetite (in part due to their high metabolism rate) but do not prey on mammals and instead feed on insects, scorpions, spiders and centipedes. They are capable of running up to 10 miles per hour, a remarkable feat considering its size. The loudest sounds they produce are the gnawing noise they make when they feed in a sawing motion with their paired jaws, and not a scream they are thought to produce when they run.
Desert biologist Fred Punzo was one of the earliest biologists to study Solifugae and documented the aggressive behaviour of camel spiders in his book The Biology of Camel Spiders (1998). In it, he also mentions additional folklores that misrepresent the true nature of camel spiders and seek to correct these misperceptions through a detailed biological study of these creatures.
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