Sun spiders are the stuff of legend, but they aren’t spiders.
Also known as camel spiders, wind scorpions, and solifuges, these arachnids are kin to both spiders and scorpions, but they have their own order (Solifugae). There are more than 1,000 different sun spider species around the world.
Large, fast, and secretive, many of these helpful predators prefer arid regions, but they are also found in scrub, grasslands, forests, and coastal areas. Their name comes to us from the Latin for “flees from the sun”, which is why these hunters are rarely seen.
Sun spider description
To hear people talk, you’d think that sun spiders were 12 feet long and ready to fill you with their venom. The truth is, they don’t have venom. What they do have are some monstrously large, curved pincer-like claws (chelicerae). And they move very quickly. Sun spider bodies can measure ½” to 3” long. If you add the legs, they can reach 6”. Okay, a 6” spider-like creature would freak me out, too. Most North American sun spiders are less than one inch long, legs included.
Like other arachnids, sun spiders have eight legs, two body parts (a prosoma and an abdomen), and pedipalps at the mouth. They do not have fangs, venom, or spinnerets. They do not spin webs or have a distinct tube (pedicel) between the two major body parts.
Beneficial sun spiders
Sun spiders are nocturnal or diurnal hunters. They capture many different insects and small animals, preferring termites, darkling beetles, and other ground-dwelling arthropods. Sun spiders have also been known to eat birds, rodents, small lizards, and snakes. After killing their prey, sun spiders cut their food into pieces, liquify it, and drink it. Generally speaking, these spiders are no danger to us, though they can inflict a painful bite. In a laboratory, one female sun spider ate more than 100 flies in an effort to fatten herself up before egg-laying began. I like that about her.
Sun spiders live in relatively permanent burrows. Females lay 50-200 eggs each year and then guard those eggs until they hatch. Newborn sun spiders are translucent. As they mature, they become reddish-brown.
Sun spider myths
The size, speed, and scary appearance of sun spiders have given rise to many [false] legends:
Myths aside, these hidden hunters are beneficial. Have you ever seen one in your garden?
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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