Myths abound as to their enormous speed, preternatural speed and terrifying scream, but what’s the truth about this hybrid arachnid?
Solifugae are a species of arachnids, which have their own class distinct to traditional or ‘true’ spiders. They live in deserts all over the world, in both the eastern and western hemispheres. The name solifugae is derived from the Latin which means they flee from the sun (they are generally nocturnal).
These spiders are the subject of many myths and urban legends. They are said to be able to run up to 30 miles per hour, grow to over 12 inches in length, make a terrifying screaming noise and jump over 4 feet in the air in order to disembowel camels. A lot of American soldiers leaving for Iraq have joked that they were more afraid of these supernatural scorpion-spiders than of roadside bombs!
But the truth about these spiders isn’t half as terrifying as the myths. They generally grow to a maximum of around 5 inches (leg span) and can only run at a maximum speed of around 10 miles per hour, less than half the speed of the fastest human sprinter.
Most of you will be familiar with the sound that crickets or grasshoppers can make. This is made by rubbing the veins on their wings against ridges on their hind legs and is called stridulation. Solifugae can do this as well, making a rattling noise when they run – so hardly a terrifying scream.
In terms of diet, they mostly stick to ants, beetles, small arthropods and the occasional lizard. So rumours of ripping open camels have been wildly exaggerated.
Rumours are also flying around about solifugae sneaking up to soldiers while they are sleeping, injecting an anaesthetic and eating big chunks of them. This is hardly fair – solifugae don’t even have hollow fangs to inject venom – and no venom to inject in the first place! Besides, solifugae are content to stick to their diet of insects and rarely attack humans. A vast majority of solifugae bites occur when people try to handle them and they get scared and defensive. The bite of a solifugae can however, be of a considerable size due to the strength of their chelicerae (mouthparts). The bite is prone to infection, and only after a massive infection will it evolve into the ragged wound described in the myths.
A lot of people report being chased by solifugae but there is an innocent (and kinda cute) reason for this. Solifugae (they flee the sun, remember?) like to stay in dark places and hide from bright light, so it’s not uncommon for them to take shelter in your shadow. So if you start walking around, they’ll follow the shade of your shadow. So when people notice them and start running away, naturally they’ll be freaked out by the big spider running after them and making a weird rattling noise!
So don’t be too harsh on these little guys and don’t be creeped out by their unusual appearance or all the lies told about them, they’re probably a lot less dangerous than most humans.