You may have heard of camel spiders before. They gained fame during the Iraq war, as stories and myths about these creepy-looking animals abounded. But let’s find out what these guys are really  like. Camel spiders, or wind scorpions comprise the order Solifugae, and despite their names, are not camels, spiders, wind, or scorpions. They are Arachnids, however, so they are at least somewhat related to spiders and scorpions. 

Camel spiders are most comfortable in hot, dry areas, and are usually found in deserts, semideserts and scrublands. With over a thousand species of camel spider, it’s not surprising that they can be found in every continent except Australia and Antarctica. 

A great picture showing the massive mouthparts, or chelicerae, of a camel spider. Image by Kedddy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The size of camel spiders varies, and reports of massive camel spiders are greatly exaggerated. If you google pictures of camel spiders you’ll likely find ones with soldiers that use perspective to make them appear much larger than they are. I’m not going to put those pictures in this post because they creep me out too much. In reality, the biggest species of camel spiders reach lengths of up to 12-15 cm, including their legs. Though they may look like they have five sets of legs, the first pair are known as pedipalps, and are used mainly as sensory organs.

Camel spiders have very prominent chelicerae, or mouthparts. In some species the chelicerae can make up one-third of their body length. These are definitely one of the scariest parts of camel spiders: they are built a like a crab’s pincers, and are very strong. Many species of camel spiders have chelicerae that are strong enough to cut through hair, feathers, skin, and even small bones. Camel spiders don’t just use their chelicerae for eating — they also rub them together to produce noise, called stridulation (the same method crickets use to produce their trademark chirps). 

Camel spiders use their large chelicerae to cut their prey into pieces as they feed. They are carnivorous, feeding on insects, termites as well as opportunistically on larger animals such as snakes, lizards, birds and rodents. Once they have caught their prey and diced them up, camel spiders inject digestive fluids into their meal to liquify their food.

A beautiful close up of a camel spider’s giant chelicerae. Image by RudiSteenkamp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Many myths claim that camel spiders have strong venom that is deadly to humans, which is untrue. No species of camel spider are known to have venom, nor any way to deliver it. Their strong jaws, however, are capable of cutting through skin and causing painful bites. So it is a good idea to avoid camel spiders if you can. 

One legend about camel spiders is somewhat true: these guys are fast. Claims that camel spiders are as fast as people are definitely exaggerated, but they are certainly fast compared to other arthropods. They are able to run at speeds of up to 16 km/h, which is pretty darn fast. I was very tempted to search for a video of a camel spider running, but I knew it would freak me out too much. If you find one, let me know how it was (I probably still won’t watch it – camel spiders look too similar to true spiders for that).

Although camel spiders have an impossible reputation to live up to, I still think they’re pretty amazing animals. Their basically super fast mouths that chop up their enemies before turning them to liquid. Not bad at all, camel spiders. 

Cover image by Bogomolov.PL, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons