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The “giant” part of the title of this blog deals with an infamous photo that went viral in 2004. Soldiers stationed in Iraq took a photo in which it seemed like they were holding two tan spiders, almost 40cm in length. Turns out, the photo was a trick all along. The picture used a technique called forced perspective; that is, it was taken from an angle from which the spiders seemed way larger than life-size. The myth was debunked as the word of the giant spiders spread around.
However, this was not the start of it. Wild claims and rumors about camel spiders flooded the internet. Some said camel spiders are a foot long and feed on the stomachs of camels; others claimed that camel spiders lay eggs under the skin of camels. Some said these arachnids can jump 4-6 feet into the air and run at speeds of 25 miles or 40 km an hour—that’s just short of the top speed of Usain Bolt, the fastest human alive. Additionally, these spiders were said to run at this speed on the sand, and not on racing tracks. If you have ever tried to run on sand, you know that if a camel spider finds you interesting and runs at this speed, it’s bad news…
Or is it? Let’s find out.
Even though this blog post focuses on the camel spider, there is more to learn here. One key takeaway for all budding scientists is the importance of fact-checking. Since debunking one myth isn’t enough, let’s hunt down some more.
Myth: Camel spiders are over a foot in length.
Fact: Camel spiders live in deserts of the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, and the southwestern USA. In the States and Mexico, they are barely an inch long, while the ones in the Middle East are three to six inches in length.
Myth: Camel spiders are venomous.
Fact: They belong to the Solifugae family. While they look to be half spider and half scorpion, they are neither true spiders nor true scorpions. And unlike their relatives, no camel spider is venomous . They hate to face off against humans and will probably scurry away. Even in the unlikely case in which a camel spider bites you, there are no harmful consequences. However, their bite is quite painful. They don’t have those jagged jaws just for flex.
Myth: Camel spiders eat the innards of camels, and lay eggs under the skin of camels.
Fact: This rumor is an unfortunate one. Camel spiders eat small insects, snakes, gerbils, lizards, and sometimes, they eat a bird or two. In fact, they have no appetite for camel stomachs. However, the name “camel spider” stuck.
Myth: They have ten legs.
Fact: They have eight legs in four pairs. However, if you see an image of a camel spider, you may count to ten. I made that mistake too! Turns out, they have an extra pair of appendages called the pedipalps. However, these are not legs. Instead, they help the camel spider to detect and hunt their prey.
Myth: They can travel at 25 km/hr and can chase and jump at humans to bite them.
Fact: Camel spiders are also called wind spiders, and it’s not for nothing. They can travel at 10 miles or 16 km an hour. However, their jumping abilities aren’t equally special.
Hold on! A camel spider chasing you isn’t bad news. These little critters love some shade. Who wouldn’t in a desert? A huge human can cast enough shade for a camel spider to cool off. The camel spiders seen following humans were probably just trying to beat the heat with some shade.
As with every blog dealing with animals, we need to include a profile:
Size: 3–6 inches (7.6–15.2cm)
Habitat : Deserts in the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, and southern states of the United States.
Diet: Carnivores. They eat small insects and mammals, snakes and birds.
Conservation status: Least concern
Appendages: Limb-like structures
Habitat: The region where an animal lives
Venomous: An animal that can inject harmful chemicals called venom into the bloodstream