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Supersize spin

They don't eat camels and they're not even spiders, despite chatter.

August 03, 2004|Mary Forgione

Recent Internet postings about the photo above of "camel spiders." It reportedly was taken by a soldier stationed in Iraq.

"A colleague sent me this photo of a mysterious desert insect, claiming that American troops in Iraq found this and are trying to keep it quiet. I believe the photo to be real."

-- Eboy

"Oh my god! What the heck is that?! Eeeew! The jaws of the bottom animal are latched to the abdomen of the top. At first, I thought it was reproduction, but given the diet listed for solpugids, it's probably cannibalism. Notice how the top animal's belly is misshapen? Ugh. I've got the willies.

-- Psion

"Now I know why my neighbor wanted a sawed-off shotgun for his Iraq deployment."

-- SPQR

"Wouldn't you admit that there is the slimmest possibility that they actually could jump on a camel's belly and devour it from the inside out? Some people are so closed-minded!"

-- 10SNE1

"Look at the tweezers the guy is holding them with. Unless they are giant tweezers, the picture is just an optical illusion."

-- Sam

"Those are not tweezers. It's a Gerber Multitool.

-- Tralfaz

*

Blaine Hebert, adjunct professor of biology at Pasadena City College, explains: "I showed the picture to a friend of mine who has collected [specimens] all over the Mideast. He points out that the perspective is off. If you look at the picture carefully, you see there is a very large shirt cuff. If you compare the size of the animals to the cuff, you see they're only 3 or 4 inches long ... these two are probably fighting."

Tom Harkins, entomologist with the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine in Maryland, said his office created a poster that was sent overseas to dispel myths about camel spiders. Harkins says the animals are active during the day and seek relief from the heat. "So as you walk down the street or in the desert, they will run into your shadow. It may seem like they're stalking you."

False: They devour camels, grow as big as dinner plates, run 25 mph, have a flesh-eating venomous bite, jump 6 feet high.

True: Eight legs aside, these Iraqi desert dwellers aren't spiders. They're solpugids (from the family Solpugidae), often called "wind scorpions" or "sun spiders," says Hebert. A large one may be about 6 inches long. Solpugids are voracious cricket and grasshopper consumers with massive jaws that shred prey but they aren't venomous and they don't bite people (unless you mess with them). They're speedy, but you can easily outrun them, and they don't jump.

True myth makers: You can buy camel spider T-shirts online or read a news spoof that begins: "A customer of the Kentucky Fried Chicken near the Baghdad airport discovered a fried camel spider mixed in with the contents of his order...."

-- Mary Forgione

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