Soldiers who have served in the Middle East have been sending back scary pictures of a beastie called "the camel spider". It is rumoured to be faster than 25mph, poisonous, hairy, and able to tackle small animals and unafraid of humans. This picture in particular seems to show that the spider is HUGE. Actually the truth is ...
What are they?
Camel spiders are not spiders. They are sometimes called "wind scorpions" but they are not scorpions either. They are a different species of arthropod called solipugids which are not venomous or have silk-making capacity. The name 'camel spider' may come from their often being found on corpses of camels which has lead to the myth that they actually can kill camels. In truth, they will use the body of a camel to prey upon other insects that gather around carrion. Also, it has been said that the camel spider will use the hair it collects to build a nest. Whether or not it will use human hair collected from sleeping soldiers is also not confirmed.
Where are they found?
They are found in the Middle East, in the desert and also in desert regions in Mexico and the United States. They hunt mostly at night when the sun is down and would otherwise overheat their bodies. They are shade-loving so often they will follow in the footsteps of a moving person leading to the myth that they pursue humans. They also have been seen tracking vehicles for the same reason.
Okay,how big are they really?
Camel spiders have a leg-span of 5" but are not "as big as dinner plates" as rumoured. They also are not as fast as 24mph but are extremely fast, with a maximum speed of 10mph (athletes can typically run at 23mph). It is their speed that also gives them the name "wind spider". As you can see in the video, this helps them overcome all kinds of prey including lizards, rodents and occasionally birds.
Like most creatures smaller than us, camel spiders do not attack humans unless provoked. When they do choose to fight they have formidable jaws that can render a painful bite. However, this is not poisonous. Instead the camel spiders will crush their prey into tiny bits and suck in the juices. Camel spiders are sometimes encountered by humans because they are attracted to light at night and so occasionally venture into tents or wander around fireplaces.