Sunday 7 November 2010

Camel Spider

Image: Braboowi
The camel spider is one vicious looking little beast and is relatively unknown compared to other vicious looking little beasts. This has led to all manner of strange, almost super-natural legends growing up around them. While it's fun (or something) to scare yourself rigid with crazy untrue stories, and we're certainly very good at that, I'm going to confine myself to the facts. Sorry!

Firstly, camel spiders aren't spiders. They're also known as sun spiders and wind scorpions, yet are not scorpions. All a bit odd, and it probably adds to the confusion and the space for exaggeration and pure lies. One truth that the names indicate is the fact that these creatures can be found in deserts all over the world, except for Australia. Poor Aussies! They get to around 7 centimetres in length, with a span of 12 centimetres or so.

Actually, I said what they aren't, so what are they? Well, they are indeed arachnids, so they are related to spiders and scorpions as well as ticks and mites, but they are given their own category. Camel spiders are in the order Solifugae, inside which there are just over 1,000 species. Even the ancient Greeks recognised that spiders and camel spiders were two separate animals, so we should have a good chance of grasping this fact today!

Solifugae is Latin for "those that flee from the Sun" and boy can they flee! They can turn a remarkable, though brief burst of speeds up to 16 km/h (10 mph), about half that of a really fast human. Not bad for something that could be hiding out in one of your shoes at this very instant. They are very active predators of all sorts of insects and even the occasional lizard or rodent, but seldom anything bigger than themselves. So how do they get their prey? Not to be morbid, but lets see how camel spiders go about killing and eating stuff.

Firstly, like all arachnids, these guys have 8 legs. They look like they have ten, but the first two big long ones are actually pedipalps. These are an arachnid speciality - spiders usually have quite small ones, scorpion pedipalps have become those big pincers, while camel spiders use their own much like insect antennae, for sensing their surroundings. They're also sticky at the end, so they can be used for climbing or even catching flying food. The first pair of legs are smaller than the rest and are also used for feeling around, so all that running is only actually done with the remaining 6. That's the great thing about 8 legs: options. They also have large eyes that are good enough to see shapes and are therefore good enough to aid in the hunt.

So, once the camel spider has found something juicy it will give chase. They are faster than most things of their size, so they tend to just outpace them. Things don't get any more elegant when it comes to the kill, they simply bite stuff to death using their massive chelicerae. Spiders have chelicerae too, theirs are hollow fangs that inject poison. That's about as graceful as an arachnid is gonna get. Camel spiders take a different tack, they have no venom and simply use brute, gory force. You just have to take a look at that head and the sheer amount of space devoted to those gnashers to know you're in for something... erm... good?

Image: TrekNature
Camel spiders have mouthparts shaped a bit like pliers, or the cruel beak of some evil prehistoric bird. And they have two of them. They are used to bite into prey and cut it to pieces, simply crunch right in until top and bottom meet in the middle. The two top parts also rub back and forth against each other, crushing and grinding and chewing, liquefying and then drinking up the gruesome result. The entire head seems to deform in shape when you see it doing this, giving a real indication of the power and muscle involved. Indeed, while camel spiders aren't one to attack humans, they can generously provide a ragged, bloody bite that can easily become infected if left untreated.

This is a good thing to know when a female camel spider is protecting her brood, which can be 50 to 200 eggs depending on the species. She lays them in a burrow which she digs beforehand and, since she won't be eating while on guard duty, she also fattens herself up by chomping through extra exoskeletons in preparation.

Alas, they are not a foot long, they don't run faster than people, they don't scream like banshees, they don't eat camels and they don't anaesthetise people in the night so they can eat half a guy's flesh. I hope you're not too disappointed, sometimes the world just isn't as terrifyingly dangerous as we would all like it to be! Or something.


Syeda Rafiya Shehnaz Urdu High school Daulatabad said...

You are amazingly very good at writing and description, while reading, we feel to read it continuosely even if you are writing about such hellish things.

Joseph JG said...

Thanks, Ishrat!