Most solifugids are nocturnal, extremely territorial and top predators in arid ecosystems: They eat other predators in the same size range as them, or a bit larger, even small birds. Camel spiders eat each other, too. They don't have venom like spiders — it's unnecessary thanks to their powerful jaws. They can manipulate their food through their mouths by sawing their prey back and forth through like an old-timey cartoon character eating a cob of corn.
Solifugids are also insanely fast. Camel spiders run at a top speed of up to 10 miles per hour (16 kph), and seem to be able to run for as long as you care to chase them. But with an indefatigable body comes a metabolism that requires nearly constant fueling. So, camel spiders eat a lot, but that doesn't necessarily explain one solifugid behavior: mass ant assassinations, like the one in this video:
For some reason, camel spiders will sometimes go after an ant's nest, just tearing ants in half right and left until they're surrounded by an enormous heap of sawn-in-half ant carcasses. Some scientists think maybe the camel spiders are killing the ants to save them as a snack for later, but Reddick published a paper in 2014 about the diet of solifugids, and she and her co-author found they don't particularly like eating ants. Another explanation for this behavior could be that the camel spiders are trying to clear out the ant nest in order to find a nice place to escape the desert sun, but it's really a mystery as to why they do this.
"The camel spider in this video could be dispatching with soldier ants in order to eat the larvae and pupae the ants were guarding — these don't bite and are super soft, squishy little protein and fat bombs," says Reddick. "Toward the end of the video, you can tell that she's eating, as her abdomen is enlarging and you can see the swallowing action, so that might be one possible explanation."
But you can add the mass murder of ants to the long list of things scientists don't understand about camel spiders. But remember — even though they act like insane little fast zombies, they can't hurt you:
"Just because something is a predator, or even defensive or aggressive, it doesn't make it a bad or mean animal," says Reddick. "Solifugids have so much great attitude, and they're soft and fuzzy — when you pet one, it's like petting a little mouse. A little demon mouse."
Originally Published: May 7, 2019