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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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Slow Motion Is the Only Way to Appreciate a Chameleon’s Lightning-Fast Tongue
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From the unusual way they walk, to their ability to change color, the evolutionary adaptations of chameleons are pretty bizarre, and some of them remain mysterious even to scientists. Their super-powered tongues, for instance, can dart out so quickly that the movement can barely be seen with the naked eye. But modern high-speed cameras have enabled researchers at the University of South Dakota to observe this appendage at work like never before. The video below, shared over at The Kid Should See This, includes some of that groundbreaking footage, and it's pretty amazing to watch.

Shooting at 3000 frames per second, the camera was able to capture every split-second aspect of the chameleon's tongue strike. Slowed down, the video allows you to see how every component of the process works in harmony: First, muscles in the lizard’s tongue contract like the string of a bow. Then, when that tension is released, the bony base of the tongue shoots forward, pushing the sticky, elastic part toward the chameleon’s prey.

According to Christopher Anderson, one of the scientists who conducted the high-speed camera research, larger chameleons can catapult their tongues forward at distances of one to two times their body length. For smaller chameleons, this distance can reach up to two and a half times their body length. “Small chameleons need to be able to eat more food for their body size than large chameleons,” he tells bioGraphic in the video, “and so by being able to project their tongues proportionately further than these large species, they basically are opening up additional feeding opportunities to themselves that they wouldn’t have if they had a shorter tongue.”

To see one of nature’s greatest hunting tools in action, check out the full video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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