The camel spider found its way into infamy during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Rumors spread like wildfire across the Internet about these purportedly blood-thirsty desert creatures. Also known as wind scorpion, sun scorpion and sun spider, this unusual looking animal isn’t a spider at all. It is a solpugid in the class of Arachnida and is actually more closely related to a scorpion than a spider. Thanks to the sensationalized stories that came out of the Middle East, the camel spider has evolved into an urban myth and even starred in its own horror movie.
Myth #1: Attack of the Camel Spider
The camel spider received its name because it jumps onto a living camel’s stomach, burrows in, lays eggs and then eats the stomach. To debunk this myth: the camel spider doesn’t attack large mammals. Insects, lizards, rodents and small birds are the dinner of choice for the camel spider. Stories of a large spider-like scorpion thing attacking another insect simply aren’t as dramatic. The reality is the camel spider is so named because it lives in deserts in the Middle East, Mexico and in the southwest part of the United States.
Myth #2: Size
Take your pick from the size myths. Camel spiders are the size of a full-grown man. They’re half the size of a human. They’re the size of a large dinner plate. Despite the plethora of images on the Internet of soldiers holding up what appears to be a spider the length of their legs, camel spiders do not reach that size. National Geographic exposed the misleading perspective of the photos. The spider is placed in the foreground, near the camera lens, which makes the spider seem to be much larger than it is. The average size of the camel spider is 6 inches, but they can be as small as 3 inches or as large as 8 inches.
Myth #3: Venomous Flesh-eaters
The scariest of the myths are the stories of soldiers falling asleep to wake up with huge chunks of flesh missing. Supposedly this is possible because of the camel spider’s anesthetic venom, which knocks the victim out so the spider can munch away. But these large, hairy bugs don’t have venom and it greatly disadvantages their hunting abilities. Without venom, they have to be aggressive predators and use their speed and stalking abilities to attack dinner with powerful jaws that pulverize prey. Like many spiders, camel spiders use digestive juices to liquefy their kill so they can drink the meal.
Myth #4: Faster Than the Speed of Light
The next myth grossly exaggerates their speed. Stories circulate the Internet of camel spiders running up to 30 miles per hour and eerily screaming like a banshee. In comparison to other arachnids, they do run pretty fast. The top speed for camel spiders is 10 miles per hour. But there’s no screaming. They have pedipalps that are much like the antenna of other insects. Instead of being perched on top of their heads, camel spider’s pedipalps resemble long front legs. The pedipalps make sounds as the wind goes through them when the camel spider is running at top speed.
Based in Las Vegas, Sandy Vigil has been a writer and educator since 1980. She taught high school and middle school English and drama for 11 years. Vigil holds a Master of Science in teaching from Nova Southeastern University and a Bachelor of Arts in secondary English education from the University of Central Oklahoma.