A camel spider bite is not directly life threatening to humans. The bite can, however, be painful and leave a fierce-looking wound. The greatest risk associated with a bite is infection. It is advisable to seek medical attention if a lesion's appearance worsens over time.
The creature known as a "camel spider" is not actually a spider, nor is it a scorpion. It is a different but related type of arachnid called a solpugid. Its habitat is the desert terrain of the Middle East, parts of Africa, and the southwestern United States. The camel spider has been called several other names, including sun spider, wind spider, and wind scorpion.
The fear of camel spiders comes largely due to their large chelicerae, the fang-like appendages near their mouths that are used to grasp and chew food. These chopping chelicerae are why solpugids are also known as "beard cutters." While solpugids are not venomous, their chelicerae can penetrate human skin. In most cases, a camel spider usually only bites if it feels threatened.
Like any puncture wound, infection of a camel spider bite is possible if bacteria enters the broken skin. Only 9 percent of spider bites of any kind result in bacterial infections, however. It is important to properly cleanse any affected tissue to prevent illness.
Sensational stories about camel spider bites flourished beginning in 2003, with the presence of U.S. troops in the Middle East during the Iraqi conflict. A photograph showing a soldier holding up a giant camel spider circulated on the Internet. In fact, the image actually was of two camel spiders linked together. Other photographs purported to show a camel spider bite swollen and oozing blood. Those bite lesions were likely from more dangerous, venomous spiders; there is no indication they were caused by a camel spider bite.
Myths have accused camel spiders of preying on dogs and cats. There are also stories of solpugids eating the stomachs out of camels. One rumor even suggests these arachnids can run 30 miles per hour (48.2 kph), chase people down, and attack them.
In fact, camel spiders are actually relatively small. Their diet consists mainly of insects, scorpions, and small lizards. They do move quickly, at 10 miles per hour (16 kph), but are not aggressive toward humans.
The word solpugid means "those that flee from the sun." The name relates to the fact that the camel spider tries to escape sunlight. It runs into the shadows cast by people as they walk. Witnesses who have observed this behavior may have misinterpreted it as aggression.