Claim: Photograph shows camel spiders found in Iraq.
Status:Real picture; inaccurate description.
Example:[Collected on the Internet, 2004]
From someone stationed in Baghdad. He was recently bitten by a camel spider which was hiding in his sleeping bag. I thought you'd like to see what a camel spider looks like. It'll give you a better idea of what our troops are dealing with. Enclosed is a picture of his friend holding up two spiders. Warning: not for the squeamish!
This picture is a perfect example of why you don't want to go to the desert. These are 2 of the biggest I've ever seen. With a vertical leap that would make a pro basketball player weep with envy (they have to be able to jump up on to a camels stomach after all), they latch on and inject you with a local anesthesia so you can't feel it feeding on you. They eat flesh, not just suck out your juices like a normal spider. I'm gona be having night mares after seeing this photo!
Origins: The photo displayed above does indeed show camel spiders encountered in Iraq, but a number of the claims about them multi-legged creatures made in accompanying text are inaccurate or exaggerated.
Claims of camel spiders being flesh-eating anesthesia-injecting beasts are folklore, not reality, so worry not that those serving in our country's armed forces in Iraq are having to deal with man-eating creepy-crawlies the size of small cats.
Camel spiders, also known as wind spiders, wind scorpions, and sun scorpions, are a type of arthropod found (among other places) in the deserts of the Middle East. They're technically not spiders but solifugae (although, like spiders, they belong to the class Arachnida). Camel spiders are the subject of a variety of legendary claims, many of them familiar to Americans because they were spread by U.S. servicemen who served in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and re-spread at the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003:
Camel spiders can grow to be as large as dinner plates.
Camel spiders can traverse desert sand at speeds up to 25 MPH, making screaming noises as they run.
Camel spiders can jump several feet in the air.
Camel spiders eat the stomachs of camels and lay their eggs there, hence the name "camel spider." (Legend includes the detail that camel spiders eat camel stomachs from either the outside in or the inside out. In the former case they supposedly jump up from the ground and grab onto camels' bellies from underneath; in the latter case exactly how spiders allegedly as large as dinner plates get into camels' stomachs intact remains unexplained.)
Camel spiders are venomous, and their venom contains a powerful anesthetic that numbs their victims (thus allowing them to gnaw away at living, immobilized animals without being noticed). U.S. soldiers were said to have been attacked by camel spiders at night but remained completely unaware of their plight until they awakened in the morning to find chunks of their flesh missing.
These claims are all false. Camel spiders (so named because, like camels, they can be found in sandy desert regions, although they aren't technically spiders) grow to be moderately large (about a 5"-6" leg span), but nowhere near as large as dinner plates; they can move very quickly in comparison to other arthropods (a top speed of maybe 10 MPH), but nothing close 25 MPH; they make no noise; and they capture prey without the use of either venom or anesthetic. Camel spiders rely on speed, stealth, and the (non-venomous) bite of powerful jaws to feed on small prey such as other arthropods (e.g., scorpions, crickets, pillbugs), lizards, and possibly mice or birds. They use only three pairs of legs in running; the frontmost pair (called pedipalpa) is held aloft and used in a similar manner to the antennae of insects. Camel spiders shun the sun and generally hide during the day, coming out at night to do their hunting.
Although the creatures shown in the photograph above appear to be far too big for camel spiders, they look misleadingly large because of their closeness to the camera, which creates an illusion of exaggerated size. (Note their size in comparison to the uniform sleeve which appears in upper right-hand portion of the picture.)
Camel Spiders: Behind an E-Mail Sensation from Iraq (National Geographic)