Solifugae: Like Spiders But Less Dangerous And More Gross

On November 22, 2014 by Tim Newman

Solifugid Solpugidae - Male Solifugid in South African Veld

Solifugae, also known as sun spiders, camel spiders, jerrymunglum, Solifuges, red romans, beard cutters and wind scorpions are minging. The name “Solifugae” derives from the Latin for “those that flee from the sun”, which gives them quite a wistful sounding vibe don’t you think?

These arachnids have the eight legs you would expect from an arachnid and mostly choose to dwell in hot, dry climbs. Some do live in forested regions, and, I’m sorry to report, there are examples of Solifugae on all continents except Australia and Antarctica.

Solifugid Solpugidae - Kuwaiti Solifugid

There are more than 1,000 Solifugae species in all; the largest of which grows to 6 inches in width if their legs are included, which is pretty small in comparison to the mighty Goliath bird-eating spider.

Like spiders Solifgae appear to have 10 legs in all, but the front pair are actually pedipalps which are used during mating, to detect environmental chemicals and as prey handling equipment.

Solifugid Solpugidae - Information

One thing that separates Solifugae from spiders is their lack of silk spinning ability. All spiders produce silk, even if they don’t create webs.

Solfiguae have surprisingly powerful chelicerae – toothy, claw like appendages. These are used to chop up their prey ready to eat, managing even to slice through thin bones, in birds for instance.

Pretty much all spiders are poisonous to a lesser or greater extent, but no Solifugae have yet been found bearing toxic chemicals.

Solifugid Solpugidae - Chelicerae

Possibly the most famous of the Solifugae are the camel spiders. They made it big thanks to the image below of some American troops holding a pair of Solifugae belonging to the species Galeodes.

They look horrifically large in the photo, but they’re about the normal size for a camel spider, they’re just closer to the lens than they appear at first glance. Look at the bloke’s sleeve in the foreground for a better frame of reference, rather than comparing them to the length of that fella’s leg in the background.

Solifugid Solpugidae - Galeodes

These arachnid horrors will eat pretty much anything they can get their chelicerae into and have been witnessed tucking into birds, insects, snakes, small lizards and rodents. They chop up their victims and pulp them down with the aid of digestive juices that they puke out as they dine. Not a particularly dainty method of eating a meal, but effective.

They aren’t dangerous to humans, but if they do bite you, it certainly will hurt.

Solifugid Solpugidae - Camel Spider

An animal as repulsive to look at as these solfiguae (in my opinion at least) was always likely to catch human attention. They’ve been recognised as a separate group from the spiders since the days of the ancient Greeks.

Anton August Heinrich Lichtenstein theorised in 1797 that the “mice” which plagued the Philistines in the Old Testament were in fact Solifugae. Gross. Imagine being descended on by hundreds and thousands of those things. Ugh.

Solifugid Solpugidae - Camel Spider 2

Troops stationed in Egypt during WWI would stage fights between solifugae for entertainment purposes. Similarly, in WWII British soldiers posted in Libya would pit Solifugae against scorpions and bet on the outcome.

One globe-trotting Solifugae managed to hitch a lift in the bag of a British soldier in Afghanistan all the way back to his family home in Essex. The arachnid got blamed for killing their pet dog but the dog’s premature demise was probably a coincidence.

It doesn’t sound like it was all fun and games in the soldier’s home though. Here’s what the soldier’s poor wife had to say about the ordeal:

My son Ricky was in my bedroom looking for his underwear and he went into the drawer under my bed and something crawled across his hand. He saw a huge spider and screamed to his sister Cassie. They tried to put a pint glass over it but it was too big, they poked it with a coat hanger and the spider bit it.
The dog came in, jumped on the bed and barked at it. The spider hissed and Bella went running out whimpering. There was an electrician in the house and he came and looked but just ran out of the house.

LOL. I known I would have reacted in exactly the same way though to be fair. No one wants a mysterious arachnid in their pants draw do they?

Solifugid Solpugidae - Arizona

Solifugae have a number of stories circulating about their size and ferocity, many of which are more than a little overblown. But one of these claims that actually is true is that they can run at 10 mph. Not bad for something that low on the ground hey?

Whatever you make of these fascinating arachnids, I will be avoiding them like the plague for the rest of my live long days.

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