Camel Spiders – Facts and myths about this impressive desert creature
Camel Spiders are the size of a breakfast plate, run as fast as an athlete and scream as pigs in distress. If you have to believe the US soldiers Camel Spiders will even eat their way through your belly while you sleep. They say it’s these deadly hairy monsters that turn the desert into a slaughter field. Fortunately, most stories are myths.
Camel spiders or wind scorpions
Camel Spiders or Wind Scorpions are a type of arachnids and family of both spiders and scorpions. The brown-beige animals have a lifespan of approximately 1 year and are 13 centimetres long. Their abdomen (body) is segmented and rounded and covered with long hairs that protect the animal from the sun.
Camel Spiders are dangerous and aggressive robbers, but only for small prey animals such as mice, scorpions and salamanders. If they try hard they can catch a small bird from the air. For this they evolved a unique method to catch them, using adhesive sticky patches on the ends of their pedipalps.
World Champion Big Mouth
The ferocious looking desert animals have huge jaws that resemble a combination of crab claws and sharp knives. With these, the animal cuts its prey into edible lumps. The size of the jaws in relation to their body size -they can be up to one-third of the animals length- make the Camel Spider the absolute world champion Big Mouth.
Fortunately, the chance that a Camel Spider will chew on you is almost nil. Only if you tease the animal or touch its egg cocoons, it will bite out of defence. For a couple of days the wound will hurt severely and become a nasty inflammation. But despite all myths, the bite is not deadly (see below for more information).
As mentioned earlier, most soldiers’ stories about the Camel Spider are made up or grandeur. But not all! Camel Spiders do indeed carry out frightening pursuits in the desert. If it spots you sitting in the sand it will run towards you. Its hairs and pedipalps upright in the air, as if it will attack any moment. As soon as you stand up it will even come closer. And when you try to walk away it will frantically follow you with a speed of 15 to 25 km / h.
Fortunately, the Camel Spider doesn’t have its eyes on you. Its bad eye sight only distinguishes light from dark. And as its Latin name -Solifugae- indicates, it’s looking for the latter. The spider flees from the sun. So when it’s chasing you it is only playing a shadow game. And since you are the one providing that beautiful dark shade on the sun-drenched landscape, he prefers to play that game with you.
Habitat and risk areas
Camel Spiders hide in shady places in the desert landscape. They like to sit in and around the surroundings of bushes, trees, stones and in sand or rock formations. They’re often seen in areas where camels roam around. Hence their nickname Camel Spider. Because they’re often taken by the wind during sand storms they’re also known as Wind Scorpion.
Camel Spiders can also be found under your tent canvas, under your car or hidden in your shoes. Be aware and don’t leave them outside. If the spider doesn’t like it as a hiding place his cousin the scorpion might take the spot.
In general, the chance of encountering a Camel Spider is not very big. I’ve met them twice in recent years. Once we camped on a nest in a wadi in Oman. That was scary. But looking at it from the bright side, the kids were never faster in packing their tent as that one time. Recently we found one in the wheel of our car while inflating the tires. But it turned out the spider was more afraid of the sun and of us than we were of him. It ran quietly back under the car and despite all myths, without a sound. The only ones screaming were us.
Bitten by a Camel Spider
The bite of a Camel Spider is not deadly! But it is very painful and you might feel sick for a few days. The bite makes a visible wound or cut in the skin, which in some cases can bleed. The area around it turns red and will most likely swell.
The mouth of the spider has harmful bacteria that can cause an infection. If you’re bitten by a camel spider it is important to follow these steps to prevent any further complications.
- Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible after the bite.
- Dry the wound. Disinfect it and the area around it.
- Apply antibiotic cream to the affected area.
- Cover the wound with a gauze or closed patch so that no dirt can enter the wound.
- After the wound has been cleaned, the wound can be cooled with ice.
- Inspect the wound daily. Clean it, apply antibiotic cream and replace the gauze.
- If the wound despite all precautions becomes inflamed, seek medical attention.
- Take Ibuprofen against the pain and swelling.
- Are you sensitive to allergic reactions, then it might be wise to take antihistamine.