During the Iraq War, the humble solifugid became the notorious "camel spider" whose exploits were highly exaggerated by the horrified soldiers who encountered it. In reality, it is a large but harmless arachnid that inhabits dry climates. Entomophobic readers can rest easy; there are no photos in this article.
The solifugid has many names such as camel spider, wind scorpion, and sun spider. It is a large arachnid that reaches a length of six inches (15 centimeters) including its outstretched legs at its biggest. It is an intimidating looking creature mainly because of its thick body, which can measure up to three inches (seven centimeters long), and its long spindly legs. Its body appears to be a big head section connected to a big abdomen section. If it had a curving tail, it would look like a scorpion. Along with the standard four pairs of legs that all arachnids have, it has two humongous pedipalps or antennae type things stretching from its head that look like a fifth pair of legs. These pedipalps, while immensely weird looking, serve as a sense organ much like a catís whiskers that stretch out to detect obstacles. Lastly, the solifugid has two massive mouthparts that resemble crab claws. Since it has no poison to inject into its prey, the solifugid needs its huge jaws to disable the smaller arthropods it feeds upon.
The solifugid occurs all through the southwestern USA and in other dry parts of the world such as India or the Middle East. Many of the soldiers who served in the Iraq War encountered the solifugid and were truly shocked by its formidable appearance. Imagine being a city boy or girl who has never seen anything bigger than a cockroach before, and then finding one of these things in your tent Ė or in your boots! I read an anecdote somewhere about a tough-as-nails SAS (Special Air Service) soldier in Afghanistan who ran across one. This guy feared nothing but apparently when a solifugid dropped off a tent flap right into his plate of powdered eggs one morning, he fainted dead away. Really, could you blame him?
Rumors have grown up around the solifugid, claiming that the average specimen can run up to 25 miles per hour (in reality more like ten). Supposedly they inject a numbing poison into their victims, tear away huge globs of flesh, and lay their eggs in the resulting wound. None of this is true. If you live in a rural part of the southwestern USA, you might startle one if youíre moving stuff out in the barn or garage, but the harmless solifugid would rather scamper away than confront you.
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