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15 Arachnophobic Facts About Camel Spiders

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Camel spiders are tricky creatures. These desert arachnids look like they have ten legs, but two of these limbs are really pedipalps, sensors that help them locate prey. They’re called spiders, but they’re not part of the same order of species as a tarantula or a wolf spider. Instead of fangs, they have powerful jaws. Apologies for the nightmare fodder—despite their fearsome appearance, they’re not actually very dangerous, unless you’re the size of a grasshopper. Here are 15 intriguing facts about camel spiders:

1. They’re not actually spiders. 

Camel spiders are arachnids, like true spiders, but belong to a different taxon called solifuges

2. They are sprinters. 

They can run up to 10 miles an hour, according to some scientific reports. 

3. Their jaws make up a third of their bodies.

The arachnids can grow up to six inches long, and up to a third of their length is taken up by their terrifying jaws

4. They go by many names.

Camel spiders are also called sun spiders, wind scorpions, beard cutters, or the “Kalahari Ferrari.”

5. They can eat entire rodents. 

Solifuges eat insects and fellow arachnids as well as lizards, snakes, and rodents. The ferocious camel spider will kill and eat poisonous and aggressive creatures, including scorpions and centipedes. They’re skilled climbers and can scale walls and trees in search of prey. 

6. They are found all over the world. 

Camel spiders have garnered quite a bit of attention since the start of the Iraq War. In 2004, a widely debunked image of a camel spider said to be found by American soldiers in Iraq began circulating, along with rumors that the spiders were eating human flesh. In reality, the spiders don’t pose much of a threat to humans, since they’d much rather munch on something more bite-sized. And solifuges aren’t limited to the deserts of Iraq. There are species found in the desert regions of every continent but Australia and Antartica. 

7. They’re not venomous. 

They may look tough, but unlike some of their spider brethren, they aren't poisonous. If you really piss one off, it might inflict a painful bite, but that’s about it. 

8. There are many different species.

Scientists have found about 1100 solifuge species. 

9. Their jaws have 80 named parts. 

In a study of 188 camel spiders by the American Museum of Natural History from this year, researchers proposed 80 different terms to describe different parts of their sharp-toothed, hairy jaws. 

10. They’ve been known to chase people. 

While camel spiders do sometimes follow people around, it’s not because they’re on the hunt. They’re just trying to use your shadow to evade the hot sun. 

11. They’re very hard to study in captivity. 

It’s hard to keep camel spiders alive in the lab so that they can be studied. As an entomologist told LiveScience, “they are quite the divas and require princess-like accommodations to be kept alive.” No doubt this is one of the reasons why camel spiders are not very well studied. 

12. During World War I, soldiers placed bets on solifuge fights. 

Troops stationed in Egypt and Libya during World War I would capture camel spiders and force them to fight each other or scorpions, placing bets on the winners, zoologist Fred Punzo writes in The Biology of Camel Spiders: Arachnida, Solifugae.

13. They detect their prey through vibration. 

Though they do also use sight, one of the main methods camel spiders use to locate prey is substrate vibrations. Because of this, solifuges sometimes don’t notice potential meals if the insect stops moving. In laboratories, camel spiders have occasionally been convinced to eat dead insects by manually moving them. 

14. South African lore holds that camel spiders love hair.

“Afrikaaners in South Africa called them 'haarkseerder' (hair-cutters) because many believed that the solifuges were attracted to the long hair of women where they could become entangled, forcing them to use their strong jaws to cut through the hair in order to escape,” Punzo writes. 

15. They might have been mentioned in the Old Testament. 

In 1797, zoologist Anton August Heinrich Lichtenstein hypothesized that the Philistine plague of mice referred to in the Old Testament was actually solifuges. The large, hairy arachnids could be mistaken for rodents in some lights, though not everyone agrees with the theory.  


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Animals
Watch a School of Humpback Whales 'Fish' Using Nets Made of Bubbles 

Just like humans, humpback whales catch many fish at once by using nets—but instead of being woven from fibers, their nets are made of bubbles.

Unique to humpbacks, the behavior known as bubble-net feeding was recently captured in a dramatic drone video that was created by GoPro and spotted by Smithsonian. The footage features a school of whales swimming off Maskelyne Island in British Columbia, Canada, in pursuit of food. The whales dive down, and a large circle of bubbles forms on the water's surface. Then, the marine mammals burst into the air, like circus animals jumping through a ring, and appear to swallow their meal.

The video offers a phenomenal aerial view of the feeding whales, but it only captures part of the underwater ritual. It begins with the group's leader, who locates schools of fish and krill and homes in on them. Then, it spirals to the water's surface while expelling air from its blowhole. This action creates the bubble ring, which works like a net to contain the prey.

Another whale emits a loud "trumpeting feeding call," which may stun and frighten the fish into forming tighter schools. Then, the rest of the whales herd the fish upwards and burst forth from the water, their mouths open wide to receive the fruits of their labor.

Watch the intricate—and beautiful—feeding process below:

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Big Questions
Why Do Dogs Love to Dig?
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Dog owners with green thumbs beware: It's likely just a matter of time before Fido turns your azalea bed into a graveyard of forgotten chew toys. When dogs aren't digging up your prized garden, they can be found digging elsewhere in your yard, at the beach, and even between your couch cushions at home. But what exactly is behind your dog's drive to turn every soft surface he or she sees into an excavation site?

According to Dr. Emma Grigg, an animal behaviorist and co-author of The Science Behind a Happy Dog, this behavior is completely normal. "When people say 'why do dogs dig,' the first thing that always comes to mind is 'well, because they're dogs,'" she tells Mental Floss. The instinct first appeared in dogs' wolf ancestors, then it was amplified in certain breeds through artificial selection. That's why dogs that were bred to hunt rodents, like beagles and terriers, are especially compelled to dig in places where such animals might make their homes.

But this tendency isn't limited to just a few specific breeds. No matter their original roles, dogs of all breeds have been known to kick up some dirt on occasion. Beyond predatory urges, Dr. Grigg says there are two main reasons a dog may want to dig. The first is to cool off on a hot day. When stuck on an open lawn with little to no shade, unearthing a fresh layer of dirt untouched by the sun is a quick way to beat the heat.

The second reason is to stash away goodies. Imagine your dog gets bored with chewing his favorite bone but knows he wants to come back for it later. Instead of leaving it out in the open where anyone can snatch it up, he decides to bury it in a secret place where only he'll be able to find it. Whether or not he'll actually go back for it is a different story. "There's a disconnect with modern dogs: They know the burying part but they don't always know to dig it up," Dr. Grigg says.

Because digging is part of a dog's DNA, punishing your pet for doing so isn't super effective. But that doesn't mean you should stand idly by as your yard gets turned inside-out. When faced with this behavior in your own dog, one option is to redirect it. This can mean allowing him to dig in a designated corner of the yard while keeping other parts off-limits, or setting up a raised flowerbed or sandbox especially to satisfy that urge. "You can get him interested in the area by burying a couple bones or some interesting things in there for him to dig," Dr. Grigg says. "I like the idea of buried treasure."

If your dog's motive for digging is more destructive than practical, he may have an energy problem. Dogs require a certain amount of stimulation each day, and when their humans don't provide it for them they find their own ways to occupy themselves. Sometimes it's by chewing up shoes, toppling trash cans, or digging ditches the perfect size for twisting ankles. Fortunately, this is nothing more walks and playtime can't improve.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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