It is that time of year when the critters that come out of our wonderful desert may surprise you. We hope the following sets your mind at ease.
Camel spiders, sunspiders, and windscorpions- all these names refer to the same critter, a spider like insect called a solpugid. It is not one of the bad guys. If you dislike flies, moths, cockroaches, earwigs, crickets, beetles, and spiders this is a secretive nocturnal predator you can learn to love- even if it does have 8 legs and show up in the corner of your bedroom, living room, bathroom…
Solpugids use only 6 of their 8 long and hairy legs for running. The forward two legs are modified as feelers. These feelers, in tandem with the adjacent longer and heavier palps, find, dice, slice and shred, efficiently leaving you no mess to clean up afterward. Really better than a cat for the small stuff.
Our fears frequently respond o looks alone. In our desert solpugids grow up to 2 inches long and look fearsome. In the Middle East they can be 6 inches long. Wow! And they can run very fast- up to 30 feet per hour.
Solpugids adaptively seek cooling shade in their hot homelands. This may explain why they have been reported sprinting along in human shadows. Although this appears as chasing, they are merely keeping up with a large moving cool zone. The two eyes atop their head do not register the human mountain casting the shadow. As an aside, they don’t relish human flesh. No insult intended.
There are 120 species of solpugids recorded in the United States, and most are found in the Southwest. Their life cycle begins in the spring with the hatching of eggs deposited in the soil the previous fall. Upon emerging from the ground the solpugid youngsters feed on almost any insect available. It is these small juveniles that are commonly seen around the house.
After a year the grown-ups are able to feed on the larger stuff, including hawkmoths, black-widow spiders and real scorpions. Even small lizards are within their capabilities. Fearsome looking yes, but hold the broom. These creatures do not have poison glands or stingers. All their predatory work is done with stealth, lightening speed and those jaws.
Occasionally they get indoors, but that is not their preference. They prefer to be outside in the garden where the selection of food is greatest. Many common inset pests would be noticeably fewer if there were more garden predators as helpful and efficient as solpugids.
It was the fear and disgust of a friend that send me searching the web. I was surprised to find the bad rap that camel spiders had amongst our service men and women serving in the Middle East. The size of dinner plates, camel spiders are reported performing gruesome acts too horrible to mention here. (Fears for small children, etc.)
We call them sunspiders; camel spiders is a name that comes from the Middle East where camels denote the desert. Rumor has it that clever insurgents have used our fear of spiders as a secret weapon to frighten military personnel even before they set foot in the country. This has been going on for awhile and there are now a number of web sites that dispel these fears with facts. It is fun to read through all the shock and horror and see the pictures and video- just Google Camel Spider.
Not surprisingly, some of our brave military report learning to love these giant 8 legged predators with a taste for pests that do have venom and stingers. The same is true for many of us living here.