Arizona Delight : A Camel Spider Stops by the Office to Say, “Hi! Can I Come In?”

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Camel spider? What’s a camel spider?

An hour ago, I had no clue despite living in Arizona and having come across Internet articles mentioning the critter from time to time. However, the beastie hanging on my office window screen, right there on the outside looking in, definitely got my attention.

When the sun goes down and the sky shifts from daytime blue to nighttime black, all sorts of interesting critters show up.

A quick snapshot of the ventral (underbelly) side with the Canon PowerShot, then,
“Pam! I’ll be outside for a bit! Got a big spider on the office screen I’ve never seen before!”

It looked like a spider, at least. Sort of. Except that it had 10, not 8 legs. Or what looked like legs.

Turned out the two big forelegs with the dark tips aren’t “true legs” any more than the camel spider is a “true spider”. They’re pedipalps, used for fighting and grabbing prey, kind of like us homo sapiens might use our arms and hands.

Camel spiders are abundant throughout the world, a whole lot bigger in desert countries like Iraq and Afghanistan than they get in Sierra Vista, Arizona, or Las Vegas, Nevada, but hardly rare even here. Why they freak people out so badly, who knows? Could it be because they look like a cross between a spider and a scorpion?

One of those things that go scritch in the night?

They’re not venomous, apparently, though their bites can go deep and nasty and get infected really easily. But still. There are people who’ve posted online from California to Nevada and Arizona, saying that encounters with these Solofuges (they get their own scientific category and everything) have inspired humans to move elsewhere!

Huh.

Pam and I don’t pretend to understand that, but then again, we live out in the Sonoran desert among Mojave green rattlesnakes, scorpions, some mighty big centipedes, tarantulas (we love our tarantulas), wolf spiders galore (we really love the wolfies), etc. Guess it’s logical that we’d be poor candidates for freakout when it comes to a–what was that word?

Oh, yeah. A Solofugid. A camel spider, also called a sun spider or wind scorpion.

Wikipedia has this to say about Solifugae:

Solifugae is an order of animals in the class Arachnida. They are known variously as camel spiders, wind scorpions, sun spiders or solifuges. The order includes more than 1,000 described species in about 153 genera. The Solifugae is a different order from the true spiders (order Araneae) and the scorpions (order Scorpiones).

So, putting that in plain English, the camel spiders are “kind of like” spiders and also “kind of like” scorpions while remaining their own man–uh, arachnid.

At least, that’s true if Wikipedia can be trusted. This particular Wiki article also states that the camel spiders can attain speeds of up to 10 mph, “…about 1/3 the speed of the fastest human sprinter”.

I started laughing when I read that one. 10 mph = 6 minute mile. 3 times that fast would be a 2 minute mile.

Pretty speedy human, right there.

However, I knew none of that when I began my photo/video documentation of the newcomer’s visit.

What I did know was that the desert had once again shown us a new (to us) species. Out here, that happens all the time, and we love it.

Camel spider in Cochise County, Arizona, hanging out on my office window screen, asking, "Hi! Can I come in?"

Camel spider in Cochise County, Arizona, hanging out on my office window screen, asking, “Hi! Can I come in?”

Runaway partner

I had just rounded the house and snapped one photo of the “new and alien critter” when a second camel spider–which I’d not noticed hanging out there on the wall below the office window–went scuttling down the stucco, aiming for the ground. Clearly the screen-hanger’s partner, though perhaps not of the same gender (the abdomen on the wall-scuttler was shorter, thicker, and darker in color than the screen hanger), its presence told me something important:

Where there’s one camel spider, there will be more.

They appear to get along with each other, anyway. Which they don’t with other small desert dwellers. Online sources say the camel spider will often take out other spiders (including black widows, yum-m-m!), scorpions, sometimes even small mice.

Picky eaters, they are not.

The runaway partner, abandoning its fellow Cochise County, Arizona, camel spider to the mercies of the giant human with the light-throwing machines....

The runaway partner, abandoning its fellow Cochise County, Arizona, camel spider to the mercies of the giant human with the light-throwing machines….


Camel Spider Video #1

The following video shows the camel spider hanging out on the screen while I wonder what on Earth it might be, species-wise. Don’t miss the speed of this “little” arachnid (1 1/8″ if you include head and body only, calculated by counting window screen squares and getting out a tape measure).

Ventral view

No scientific expedition of the zoological sort would be complete without a look at the criitter’s underside, right? The ventral view?

Of course not.

In fact, that was the first photo taken, snapped through the window screen from inside the office before trundling out and about to do “videos and stuff”

Enjoy.

 Cochise County, Arizona, camel spider, ventral view. Head plus body adds up to 1 1/8" on this specimen (counting screen squares made measurement easy).


Cochise County, Arizona, camel spider, ventral view. Head plus body adds up to 1 1/8″ on this specimen (counting screen squares made measurement easy).


Sun spider

Apparently, these camel spiders get called sun spiders because they don’t like the sun so much?

Not sure about that, but any number of online observations have noted that these arachnids will chase you during broad daylight–but they’re really chasing your shadow, trying to get under cover, away from that deadly, blazing sunshine.

Or maybe that’s only some of them.

Ours, obviously, showed up well after dark. There wasn’t any sun to duck, but it did seem drawn to the office light. On the other hand, it wasn’t too crazy about the camcorder’s headlight, as near as I could tell.

Another angle, bringing this Arizona camel spider's mandibles into sharp focus. It's easy to believe the reports of the camel spider ripping its prey apart before chowing down.

Another angle, bringing this Arizona camel spider’s mandibles into sharp focus. It’s easy to believe the reports of the camel spider ripping its prey apart before chowing down.

Considerations

It’s going to be interesting, getting Pam’s take on these photos and videos in the morning. My wife detests scorpions (which the camel spiders somewhat resemble, though without the curly stingy tail) and appreciates tarantulas (which the camel spiders also somewhat resemble). She’ll be happy to hear they eat black widows but furious at the idea of a wolf spider (Mommy-riding babies and all) ending up as a camel spider’s lunch.

Hmmm…maybe I won’t tell her that part. What she doesn’t know can’t hurt me.

Just how awesome is this predator, really? The Arizonensis.org field guide website puts it this way:

Solifugids are fast running, nocturnal arachnids that resemble something
intermediate between a scorpion and a spider, thus the alternate common name, sun spider. The cephalothorax (fused head and thorax) is most conspicuous as a front-end crushing device. Indeed most any arthropod the solfugid encounters is at once converted into macerated food and the liquid extracted. Scorpions happen to be a favorite prey – solfugids work so fast the scorpion rarely has time to even attempt a sting.

Okay. That part, I will definitely tell Pam: Scorpions happen to be a favorite prey.

Awesome. Any arachnid ready and willing to decimate the scorpion population is a friend of Pam’s. Mine too, for that matter. Just because I’m a Scorpio astrologically does not mean I’m a big fan of the scorpion as a species.

Camel spiders do apparently like to hunt under electric lights. Maybe our office visitor wasn’t wanting to come in. Maybe it wanted the light to come out, so it could hunt the ground better.

Ya think?

Summary

Bottom line, these camel spiders–both the screen-hanger and the partner who left that one holding the bag when I showed up–are mighty interesting critters. For one thing, it’s the first time I can ever remember seeing any sort of arachnids hunting in pairs, which these two were obviously doing prior to being so rudely interrupted by a guy with a camcorder.

Either that, or they were getting ready to make camel spider babies….

…which woulf be fine, as long as they don’t reproduce right there on the window screen. Baby camel spiders likely would be small enough to slip right on in to say hello, up close and personal….

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