A camel spider is an arachnid in the order Solifugae, which means "those who flee from the sun."
Credit: Paul Maker / University of California, Riverside
Large, tan, hairy, and ferocious-looking, the camel spider is the stuff of legend — urban legend, that is. While these creatures are undoubtedly large, they are by no means half the size of a human and in the habit of dining on camel stomachs and sleeping soldiers.
The camel spider (also called sun spider) is not a spider. It belongs to the class Arachnida, but while all spiders are arachnids, not all arachnids are spiders. Another common name is wind scorpion, but it’s not a scorpion, either. The camel spider is of the Solifugae order, which is Latin for “those who flee from the sun.” Solifugae live in dry, desert climates, have powerful fangs, and a segmented abdomen.
Appearance & habits
Though camel spiders appear to have ten legs, they actually have eight. The two extra leg-like appendages are sensory organs. Camel spiders can reach up to six inches (15 cm) in length and weigh about two ounces (56 grams). They have powerful jaws, which they use to catch prey. Their jaws can be up to ⅓ of their body length.
While most commonly found in Middle Eastern deserts, camel spiders also live in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. Camel spiders are primarily nocturnal and flee from the sun.
Camel spiders are carnivores. They eat other bugs, lizards, small birds and rodents.
Despite their reputation and frightening appearance, they are of negligible threat to humans.
Camel spiders are not venomous. Their jaws are their primary weapon. After seizing a victim, they turn it to pulp by chopping or sawing the bodies with their jaws. According to National Geographic, camel spiders, “utilize digestive fluids to liquefy their victims' flesh, making it easy to suck the remains into their stomachs.”
Compared to other arachnids, camel spiders are speedy. They can run up to 10 miles per hour. Unlike spiders, camel spiders breathe with a trachea, which allows for fast oxygen intake and helps them move quickly.
Camel spider myths
The camel spider first gained notoriety in the West during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Their fame only grew when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Then, they became an Internet sensation. Forced-perspective photographs made the spiders look as big as a human leg, and soldiers brought stories of man-eating spiders to their home countries.
Though the camel spider became infamous in the West relatively recently, it has long been the stuff of legend in the Middle East. Some common myths about it are:
Camel spiders run after humans: Camel spiders don’t want you; they want your shade. When a human runs, the camel spider will chase the shadow. If a human stands still, the camel spider will, too, enjoying the cool. Though camel spiders seek to avoid the sun during the day, they are attracted to light at night, and will run toward it.
Camel spiders scream: Some species of Solifugae may hiss, but the majority make no sound.
While under a camel, they leap into the air and disembowel it, eating its stomach: While untrue, this old myth probably gave the camel spider its name. Camel spiders may stand under camels for the shade.
Camel spiders eat or chew on people while they sleep. Their venom numbs the area so people can’t feel the bites: Camel spiders are not venomous, and though their bites are painful, they are not deadly to humans.
Camel spiders can run up to 30 miles per hour and jump up to three feet high: The fastest camel spider clocks in about 10 miles per hour. They don’t do any significant jumping.