March 28th, 2013 by James Ayre
A viral story/image about a giant camel spider forcing a family from their home/killing their dog has been repeatedly going around for the last couple of years. There have been a few variations on it, but the general story has been that a camel spider hitchhiked its way to Manchester with a soldier returning from Iraq, and subsequently caused the death of the family’s dog and forced them from their home. It’s a cool sounding story, but is it true?
The most popular version goes like this:
THIS was actually found this morning in a house in Manchester, Fire Brigade were apparently shit scared and handed it over to a spider specialist. Family fled screaming from their home, think I’d do same, its like something from a horror movie …
There is apparently some truth to the story, but the city in question was Colchester not Manchester. And camel spiders are non-venomous, so if the spider did cause the dog’s death it was from an infected bite not venom. That’s if it was an actual camel spider, a big if.
Worth noting, is that the origin of the picture that has generally been accompanying the story is unknown, but doesn’t appear to show a camel spider. At first glance, it strongly appears to be a Giant Huntsman Spider, which is in fact one of the two largest spiders in the world, tied with the Goliath Bird-Eater. Giant Huntsmans are quite big, at around a foot in length, but they are native to Laos, and would have a very difficult time surviving in England’s climate. There are other species of Huntsmans that are invasive throughout much of the southern and western portions of the United States though, Australia, and other regions, though.
In some of the stories the location is listed as being in Georgia, which would be a very plausible place to come across a particularly large Huntsman spider.
Now that we have gone over the viral story, how about some hard facts?
With regards to camel spiders, camel spiders are not truly spiders, they are a sister clade to spiders and scorpions. And though they may look strange/dangerous to some, they are in fact generally harmless to humans. The worst that is likely to happen is a bite similar in pain to a bee sting.
If anything, it should be the camel spiders that are afraid of humans, they have long been used by people as a form of entertainment, with the animals forced to fight each other. Which was apparently a common form of entertainment for British and American soldiers stationed in North Africa and the Middle East during WWI and WWII, and recently during the Iraq War.
The exaggerations of massive size, super speed, and poisonous fangs, are met by the reality of growing no larger than a half foot, reaching a max speed of only 10 mph, and possessing no venom.
Interestingly though, the German zoologist, Anton August Heinrich Lichtenstein, has suggested that the plague of “mice” that afflicted the Philistines in the Old Testament may have been in reference to camel spiders. The “mice” translation is contentious, as is much of the translation of the Old Testament.
With regards to the Giant Huntsman, though large and perhaps dangerous looking, they are also not poisonous. The worst that you could get is a mildly painful bite, similar maybe to a bee sting, and a possible infection if not cleaned properly.
While finding either of these spiders in England is unlikely, perhaps that will change in the future with rising temperatures? It’ll be interesting to see what animals do well, and become invasive to new regions, with the changing climate.
Image Credits: Huntsman via Shutterstock, screen capture
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