there’s been a slight drought of spider sightings lately, so once again i will tackle a beast i have not personally encountered (except dried in museums), but whose photo can be found amply splashed across the interweb.  i actually had a request from someone to feature this critter (someone who, i believe, checks out webnesday posts with a kind of horrified fascination – probably not alone), so here we go: the ‘camel spider,’ ‘wind scorpion’ (plus any of a host of other common names), or, more technically, solifugid.

(image courtesy of wikipedia, as usual)

this bulbous (and admittedly alarming-looking) beast, like a few other misunderstood groups i’ve featured here, actually belongs to its own order of arachnid, the Solifugae.  note that it appears to have ten ‘legs’ –  the front two, which are much larger than the other eight (the latter being the true legs), are actually the pedipalps.  other hallmarks are the enormous jaws (chelicerae), which are longer than the main part of the cephalothorax.  these are used for biting and tearing and can do a bit of damage due to their size and strength, but have not been proven to contain any venom.  (one study claimed to have identified venom in a single species, but has not been successfully replicated.)
the jaws also do not possess anaesthetic, as was rumored in emails about nasty solifugids in iraq – you may have seen these, usually accompanied by images like this.  the claims that they chew large holes in sleeping people (or camels), and some other amusing myths, are neatly dispelled by snopes; national geographic also had a bit to say about them.  the photo is authentic, but the solifugids are positioned much closer to the camera than they appear, giving a false impression of their size (max legspan about 5″ – considerable but not THAT big).
solifugids can run quite quickly, and apparently do have the startling habit of following moving animals in the desert.  however, this ‘chasing’ seems to be in pursuit of the shade cast by the panicking, would-be escapee, rather than an indicator of aggression on the solifugid’s part.  they eat invertebrates and lizards, some larger than themselves, but would not be likely to bite a person other than under duress.
as with most arachnids, some intrepid souls do import solifugids and keep them as pets.  they would not be at the top of my list, though (partly because of their short lifespan and resistance to captive breeding), and i can’t say i wouldn’t exit my sleeping bag quickly if i found a wild one like this sharing it with me.

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