The camel spider, or solifuge, is known by several other names, including wind scorpion and sun spider. Despite these nicknames, the solifuge is neither a scorpion nor a spider, but it is related to these similar arachnids. The common nickname of “camel spider” is derived from the solifuge’s preference for dry, desert-like climates. The Solifugae order includes over 1,000 species of arachnids that could be considered camel spiders. The camel spiders commonly found in Utah are typically found in the southern areas, but sightings have been reported all over the state. Urban myths and legends have grown wildly over the years, many of which grossly exaggerate the size and speed of the camel spider. While its bite is painful, the dangers of camel spiders are also often exaggerated, as they are not venomous and very rarely cause significant injury to humans.
Camel spiders are found in colors that range from a brownish or sandy appearance to red or orange. Their bodies are covered in tiny hairs, including their legs. With leg length included, some species have been recorded as long as 6 inches, but the types found in southern Utah are much smaller, with bodies typically half that size. Similar to a true spider, the solifuge has a body that is divided into 2 sections: the abdominal area and the head/thorax area. The creature’s legs are connected to the abdominal area. Though camel spiders appear to have 10 legs, the very front appendages are actually pedipalps that the animal uses as sensory tools; it does not use these appendages for walking, giving it the 8 legs of an arachnid.
A distinct characteristic of solifuges is their lack of a pedicel, which is a tube-like structure that connects the abdominal area to the cephalothorax of true spiders. The pedicel also allows the abdomen of spiders to move freely when producing silk and webs. As such, camel spiders do not have this freedom of movement in their abdominal area and do not produce silk or webbing.
Another notable distinction between solifuges and true spiders is that solifuges have a tracheal system that spiders do not have. Camel spiders breathe by inhaling and exhaling air through various spiracles located on the creature’s body. This method of breathing contributes to the impressive mobility and famous speed exhibited by the camel spider.
Camel spiders have some of the most fierce looking mouthparts of all arachnids. The mouthparts, or chelicerae, of camel spiders comprise sharp pincers and many teeth that are capable of cutting through skin and even small bones. The mouthparts of the camel spider vary greatly between the different types of camel spiders. Some species can have small chelicerae, but others may have mouthparts that account for a third of the animal’s body length. Chelicerae can also differ in the number and sharpness of teeth and pincers. Noting the differences in the mouthparts is the most common method of identifying different species of camel spiders.
Mating And Life Cycle
The mating habits of camel spiders have only been examined in a few select species. It is believed that the males of most species will travel long distances to find a mate. Once a mate is found, the male strokes the female with its pedipalps, which causes the female to fall into a frozen state of “torpor.” While the female is in the frozen state, the male will inseminate her either by injecting a spermatophore, which is a small packet of sperm, directly into the reproductive opening or by using his mouthparts to transfer the sperm into the reproductive organ.
After mating, the female camel spider will burrow a hole into the ground where she can lay her eggs. Solifuges typically lay between 50 and 200 eggs, and most species will aggressively defend the eggs. A few species are known to even exhibit parental care of young solifuges after the eggs hatch. The newly-hatched offspring are a translucent white color, and they will be found in clusters in the beginning stages of their lives.
The camel spider develops throughout 9 to 10 nymphal instars before it reaches adulthood. At the second nymphal stage, it will start to venture off on its own to look for shelter and food. As they search for a suitable home, camel spiders will look for dry, warm areas. They build subterranean nests that they will emerge from at night to hunt for prey, as they are mostly nocturnal hunters that typically stay hidden during the day. The camel spider has a short lifespan, with many species only living between a year and 18 months.
Habits And Behavior
Camel spiders prefer desert-like environments, but some species have also been known to inhabit grasslands and forests. Though they like the warm weather, they tend to hide from the sun in underground nests, beneath large rocks, or under other structures that provide shade. Not all camel spiders are nocturnal, but the majority are, and they come out at night to hunt. Their most common prey are other arthropods, such as termites, beetles, spiders, and scorpions. Due to their formidable size and dangerous mouthparts, camel spiders have also been known to prey on smaller rodents, reptiles, and birds, as their chelicerae can cut through the brittle bones of these animals.
Camel spiders are not venomous, instead relying on their speed and ferocity to catch and kill their prey. When they have caught their prey, their chelicerae are used to cut their victims into pieces. The camel spider will then cover the victim in a digestive fluid that contains enzymes that will liquify the prey in order for the camel spider to easily suck up the remaining fluid.
Camel spiders can “run” at speeds up to 10 miles per hour. Common myths state that they are even faster, but this actual speed is more than fast enough to track down their prey. There are also popular myths about camel spiders jumping on and eating through camel’s stomachs. This is 100% false, as camel spiders do not jump and do not prey upon animals that are much bigger than their own size.
Other unsettling myths state that camel spiders are capable of screaming and chasing humans. You can rest assured that the “screaming” is attributable to a simple hissing noise produced by the camel spider rubbing body parts together in order to warn off predators. As for chasing humans, a more accurate statement would be that they may follow humans if there is no other source of shade. In a desert environment, the shadow of a human or large creature may be the only shade for a camel spider. In this case, a camel spider may be seen around larger animals and may even bite if it feels threatened, but it is certainly not chasing a human or a camel as a potential source of food.
How Dangerous Are They?
Camel Spiders are not typically found in Utah homes, and you are most likely not going to find one unless you go looking for it. However, if you do encounter one, remember that they are aggressive and can quickly attack before you have a chance to escape. As previously stated, camel spiders are not venomous, but their sharp mouthparts will pierce human flesh with a painful bite. The bite area will likely heal on its own without any major issues, but you will deal with swelling and irritation for up to a couple weeks. In very rare cases, the bite of a camel spider can lead to a more serious infection that requires medical attention. Bites can potentially be even more serious in smaller pets. It is always important to be mindful of your surroundings when you are out enjoying the natural beauty of Utah.