Ok, I will be the first to admit that Camel spiders have a bit of an image problem. I am an invertebrate lover of long standing and even I jumped a wee bit the first time I saw one! Many of my Moroccan friends also find it difficult to understand my fascination with them and are still not altogether convinced of their harmless nature.
I realise spiders of any sort are a bit of an issue for many people, even tiny cute ones, and these are not cute.
But bear with me, because they really are incredible little creatures. When you get to know them. My initial encounter with one was during my first camel trek in the desert, when it ran across our improvised tablecloth spread on the sand by the campfire for supper, it was only a small one and was promptly dispatched to whatever heaven arachnids inhabit by Ali, I think in the mistaken belief that I was going to freak out utterly as soon as I spotted it. (They know me better now!) I did get a chance to have a good look at its now inert body however and spent the rest of the trip hoping to see another but was out of luck that time. April 2017 I finally hit the camel spider jackpot though, staying in a fixed camp near M’hamid I spotted a big one sitting by the light over the kitchen door. The following morning when we moved the camel gear there was a positive flurry of activity as several escapees headed for the shadows. I spent quite a bit of time watching camel spiders that day and started to feel quite affectionate toward them, and I was entranced by their strangeness…
They are not the most attractive of creepy crawlies it’s true, in fact their colouration and odd almost semi transparency makes them look as though they could be the inspiration for a dozen Sci fi monsters. But they are perfectly camouflaged and adapted to their environment and are true desert survivors, capable of catching and eating creatures bigger than themselves, including small rodents and lizards ( I have been told they also catch scorpions but have no evidence for this) with their enormously powerful jaws. Dinner can be scarce in the desert so you have to eat whatever you can get hold of.
They are able to run pretty fast, faster than almost any other arachnid, with a top speed of about 10 miles an hour. They are also in fact, not spiders at all but belong to an even more ancient arachnid family called solpugids.
When they do run they are usually running determinedly towards shade if disturbed during the day as they can’t bear the sunlight. Their proper name of solifugae meaning ‘one who hides from the sun’ This does mean that they usually run towards the nearest available shadow, which might be yours in the desert. But it is not you they are after! Just your shady effects… At night they are actually attracted to light so you may see them resting near lights and lamps. This is the best chance to get a really good look at one, as they will just sit there for you. Treat them with respect as they do have big jaws but only a very annoyed one is going to bite you, and yes, it will hurt if it does, but they are not poisonous or in my experience at all aggressive.
For many years, Middle Eastern rumors (and gulf war soldiers folklore) have painted camel spiders as huge, venomous predators, with a voracious appetite for large mammals. These myths are untrue. These creatures do not actually eat anything bigger than a mouse and certainly don’t prey on camels, that is just silly… (although they will use a camel for shade which may have fuelled some of these tales) and they are not so large, (only about 6 inches and weighing a just a couple of ounces) but the real camel spider is still an amazing predator and an utterly fascinating inhabitant of the desert…
And finally, if you really don’t want to get to know them at all, relax. I haven’t seen them at all on several of my treks, and I was looking for them!