The camel spider, also called a wind scorpion, is an arachnid, but not a spider at all. It cannot weave a web and possesses no venom. Camel spiders are shade-seekers, called solpugids, which occupy desert regions worldwide.
Camel spiders grow to a length of about 5" (12.7cm) with legs outstretched, and are somewhat less daunting than their reputation.
The folklore began in 1991 with U.S. soldiers during the Gulf War, and was picked up again in 2003 when the U.S. returned to Iraq. Soldiers reported the spiders would scurry across the sand directly at them as if attacking. In truth camel spiders run after shade and are seeking the shade created by the soldiers. Misinformation about camel spiders ran rampant with rumors of their ability to run 25 mph (40 km/hr), jump several feet into the air, lay eggs in a camel's stomach, and even inject sleeping soldiers with anesthetic venom to surreptitiously suck chunks of flesh.
Folklore over the camel spider is not confined to the Middle East. In Mexico the name for the camel spider, matevenados, translates to "deer killers."
Camel spiders can reach speeds of 10 mph (16 km/h), they do jump to modest heights, and are aggressive, though they are not the superspiders of myth. Camel spiders feed on invertebrates, insects and even small reptiles. They have enormous crushing jaws that must work quickly because they have no venom to subdue their prey. Finally, camel spiders are so-named, not because they feed on camels, but because they are found in the same desert-like climates as the camel.
It's no wonder the camel spider is the source of many exaggerated tales with its impressive speed, generous size, and enormous jutting jaws. The awesome camel spider brings to mind the stuff of movies like Starship Troopers, which pits mankind against worlds where giant arachnids rule. But at least for now, the camel spider remains a mere shade-seeker, scuttling through the sands for another meal that will likely have at least 4 legs, if not 6 or 8. And that's good news for us.