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Wind Scorpions On Assignment

Wind Scorpions On Assignment

Wind Scorpions
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Photo captions by
Cliff Tarpy





Wind Scorpions Feature Image
   
Text and photographs by Mark W. Moffett



Massive jaws, voracious appetite, and sprinters' speed attest that these aggressive desert dwellers are built to kill.



Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

As the sun rose over the desert in Israel, a bizarre little creature stared at me, then rushed back to its burrow. With beady eyes, a hairy body, and jaws that bulged like Popeye's forearms, it was something from a nightmare. I had approached it with caution since wind scorpions, though not venomous, can inflict a painful bite on humans—and death on their prey. Zealous carnivores, they attack insects, rodents, lizards, snakes, and small birds, seizing them with jaws that can reach up to a third of their body length—among the largest for their size in the animal kingdom. Wielding those jaws like a combination pincer and knife, they chew their victims into pulp with a sawing motion. They then exude an enzyme that liquefies the flesh, which they suck into their stomachs.
 
Not actually scorpions, these predators are solifugids, members of the Arachnida, a class that includes spiders, mites, ticks, and true scorpions. Sometimes known as sun spiders, and called camel spiders in North Africa and the Middle East because of their humped profile, wind scorpions weigh as much as two ounces (56 grams) and can have leg spans exceeding five inches (12 centimeters). Most of the 1,100 species are nocturnal. Racing over the sand in the dark like supercharged dune buggies, they seem to know no fear.

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More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
The wind scorpion has been called the official arachnid of the war in Iraq. One soldier described it as the "most grotesque-looking thing you've ever seen," and several legends have grown up around it. For example, it is said that the creature runs more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) an hour, makes noises like a screaming baby, and warrants the name camel spider because it scampers onto camels' stomachs and feeds on them until their intestines fall out—none of which are true. The wind scorpion actually runs about a mile an hour, makes no noise at all, and eats small desert creatures like insects and lizards. Its formidable appearance has long fascinated troops in the area: During World War I, soldiers stationed in Egypt staged fights between captive wind scorpions and placed bets on the outcome.
 
—Kathy B. Maher
Did You Know?

Related Links
International Society of Arachnology
www.arachnology.org
The study of spiders and other arachnids is the focus of the ISA website. Click on the Arachnology Pages for links to specific orders or to subjects like spider silk and webs.
 
American Arachnological Society
www.americanarachnology.org
Visit this website for information on wind scorpions, spiders, and their kin. Resources include a photo gallery and advice on identifying the arachnids you encounter.
 
The Solifugae Website
www.solpugid.com
Biologist Warren Savary, a wind scorpion researcher featured in this month's National Geographic, presents information about solifugids—including a bibliography and photographs of the two families found in North America—on this website.
 
The Scorpion Files
www.ub.ntnu.no/scorpion-files
Wind scorpions can inflict a painful bite on humans but have no venom. The 1,300 known species of true scorpions are infamous for their venom, but are they all dangerous killers? Learn about them—and find useful links—at this site.
 
The Pet Arthropod Page
www.key-net.net/users/swb/pet_arthropod
Interested in an unusual pet? Wind scorpions live less than a year and are hard to care for, but some arthropods are safe if handled with common sense. This site covers the care and handling of giant cockroaches and emperor scorpions, among other creatures.

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Bibliography
Foelix, Rainer F. Biology of Spiders. Oxford University Press, 1996.
 
Levi, Herbert W., and Lorna R. Levi. Spiders and Their Kin. St. Martin's Press, 2001.
 
Polis, Gary. The Biology of Scorpions. Stanford University Press, 1990.
 
Punzo, Fred. The Biology of Camel-Spiders. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1998.
 
Weygoldt, Peter. The Biology of Pseudoscorpions. Harvard University Press, 1969.

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NGS Resources
"Sting to Bring Relief?" National Geographic (August 2001), Geographica.
 
Newman, Aline Alexander. "Small Wonders: All About Animal Babies." National Geographic World (April 2000), 14-18.
 
Zahl, Paul A. "Scorpions: Living Fossils of the Sands." National Geographic (March 1968), 436-42.

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