Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday Myth: Solpugids

I needed a DEAD solpugid to get a shot like this.
When alive, they're too busy running away.

I must be one lucky duck because the above critter -- a Solpugid (sol-pew-jid) -- was sitting freshly dead and perfectly intact at the bottom of my apartment stairs last night. I was headed back from an evening workout and came upon it posed as-is with the chelicerae displayed in all their glory -- score!! Bet a neighbor found and doused it with hairspray (or some such) moments earlier, then booted it out the front door to die. This individual is the third in two weeks, and they're much bigger than last year's. I figured they're vying for a Monday Myth feature. So I scooped the dead-but-still-imposing body up for a postmortem photo shoot.

Sun spiders, wind scorpions, and a host of other common names are used to describe Solpugids. So I just call them Solpugids. They belong to the class Arachnida, as do scorpions and spiders; however, Solpugids are distinct from both in several ways:
  • Solpugids have a segmented abdomen like a scorpion, but lack a tail of any kind.
  • Solpugids have pedipalps (modified mouthparts) that are held pincer-like (similar to scorpions), but are not actually pincers.
  • Solpugids have chelicerae that are forward-projecting and beak-like. This is a fairly unique feature.
One important distinction between solpugids and their scorpion/spider cousins: Solpugids have no venom. Crazy, I know. The terrifying and homely creature has no bark to back up its bite. Bacterial infection from fine "hairs" (setae, seen above) covering the body and chelicerae is thought to explain bite site agitation; however, a good washing may prevent that. Contrary to popular myth (and the common name "deer slayer" in certain foreign countries), Solpugids do not bring down large mammals, to say nothing of draining their blood. True, they might pack a wallop with those chelicerae if one was so inclined... But I've encountered more than a dozen in my apartment and find them to flee from human activity entirely.

Ollie likes to harass even the dead ones.

There are more than a dozen families containing around 900 species worldwide. Most live in arid climates and are nocturnal predators of various invertebrates or small vertebrates (lizards, etc.). The largest I saw in my apartment last year -- among more than a dozen -- were barely an inch in body length. The three so far this year: 1.25 - 2.5 in.!


hannah said...

haha neat pics!! I'd like to see someone get pics like those of a live one! those buggers are fast!!

Im live down here in So-Cal and frequently find these little dudes scurrying around my house.. lately i've been finding really tiny ones in my kitchen, theres actually a hole in the tile grout that i think is a solpugid nest! pretty exciting, yea? as long as they leave me alone im fine with em. what amazes me the most about these is how they can use their sticky arms to climb right up the side of a glass!

they are awfully creepy looking though haha!!!

JP said...

Thanks for the comment, Hannah. It's great that you seem to appreciate these guys and aren't afraid of them (appropriately so). Sounds like you are one of the minority homeowners savvy enough to save your health (and the environment) from pesticide applications and instead chooose to either tolerate your solpugid visitors or seal up the hole you suspect they're coming in from. Either way, kudos to you. Thanks for stopping by!

WolfSoul said...

Thanks for the little education on solpugids. Amongst other things, I learned that I've been mis-pronouncing their name for years! Found your site because I just found another solpugid in my house (about the third so far) and am trying to confirm what I thought I'd heard about them being venerable scorpion hunters (as well as hunting just about anything else their size). I was totally amazed (and admittedly a little shocked) when the little guy (1" long) I caught just not climbed right up the side of a slick plastic 100 disc cd spindle cover (my low-tech bug catcher/relocator). Went up it like it was velcro. No other bug I've caught has come even close to being able to get a grip on this plastic. Crazy stuff.

I caught a baby bark scorpion at the same time, but didn't test the "scorpion killer" hypothesis. The scorp was less than 1/2" long, so it wouldn't have been a fair test even if I had been inclined to see the fight.

Shiner said...

I found a live one in my apartment here in Seattle a week ago, I would guess its size at 2.5-3" I took some photos of it before I killed it, but I dont know how to post them here. Looks just like the photo you put up.