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Norwich Bulletin - 3/7/2010

Camel Spider

I am always searching the internet, looking for new things to write about, when I came across an article called, "Ten creatures from your worst nightmare." I decided to check it out and I was so upset to see that the first creature named, was a Camel Spider. I had heard of those before Ė from my own daughter who lives in the high desert in Southern California.

She told me about this very aggressive creature that was a spider, but not really a spider. She has to check all the bedding, her clothes, her shoes Ė absolutely everything before she uses it because they tend to be drawn to closed places and shade. She also told me that they were aggressive. At one point she unbelievingly watched a camel spider completely swallow a lizard whole! These creatures are actually the biggest reason I wonít visit her unless she meets me in Los Angeles! Yes, I freely admit, I am a coward.

So the Camel Spider is not a spider and it is not a scorpion or even an insect. They are closely related to all three however. It is a solifugae (which means those that flee from the sun) and although they do live all over the world where it is warm and arid (boy am I glad I live in New England where itís nice and cold), they are mainly seen in deserts. They were first discovered in Iraq and in the sandy areas of southwest United States and Mexico.

There are many stories from soldiers in the middle east that tell about fairly large camel spiders that were like nothing they had ever seen before. They would come in to the hangers, mostly at night and walk right up the middle of the hanger. The soldiers could not take a broom or anything else to try and push them out as they would turn aggressive and attack whatever was being used. Finally the soldiers had to trap them in containers and take them out to the fence line and let them go.

The camel spider is usually seen during the spring and summer months because they are actually afraid of cold weather. They feed on insects, scorpions and lizards. They have sticky stuff on their front legs that help catch and hold their prey. They often overeat and become swollen and almost unable to move.

That same sticky stuff on their front legs allows camel spiders to climb smooth surfaces, like glass. They have eight legs like spiders do, but they only use the back six for walking and running. The two front legs are held out (much like a scorpion) and are used like antennae to feel where they are going.

Their most formidable feature is their large paired jaws. Each chelicera works like a combination of a knife, and pliers, used to crush and chew prey. While they are not venomous, when cornered or picked up (now who in their right mind would do that),
they are aggressive and can inflict a painful bite with their powerful jaws.

And the larger ones have the ability to really tear flesh and puncture skin, so the chance of infection is great. It is important to seek the help of a doctor if one is bitten, but the good news is that you are not going to die.

Camel spiders are usually beige to brown in color, and they have very hairy legs and body. They can run up to 10 mph! That is very fast for a little creature that is only about six or seven inches long. I am told that the spiders will approach any shade if they have an opportunity and that includes human shadows. So this gives the impression that they are following and attacking humans, which supposedly isnít true. While they might just be trying to hide from the sun, I would rather they didnít hide in my personal shadow.

My daughter offers these suggestions for anyone planning a camping trip to a desert anytime soon: Look before you reach into anything, under anything, or around anything. If you see a camel spider, donít try to pick it up. Sandbag around the edge of your tents to seal any entry gaps. Shake out your shoes, clothing and sleeping bags before you use them. Never, never, walk barefoot or use open toed sandals.

Donít sleep on the ground and make sure your bed is not up against a wall. Use sticky board traps (much like flypaper) all around any utility gaps, building edges and under your furniture to capture camel spiders and wear gloves whenever working outside with rocks crates, or lumber. And last but not least, should you find a camel spider on your body, brush it off gently, do not swat at it.

One last "fun" fact - Camel spiders are also known as screaming spiders because of their scream while running. No wonder people think the creature is screaming while attacking them.

Now do you know why I donít visit my daughter?

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