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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER ALAN FRISWELL: Scary Spider Stories #1 - Attack of the Camel Spider

Alan first came to my notice when he turned up at our stall at last November's Unconvention. He was clutching a box that had once held a plastic Christmas Tree. He thrust it at me, and said "Here's your mermaid".

I vaguely remembered Richard F having said that one of his mates had offered to make us a feegee mermaid, but I had forgotten all about it. Sad to say, so many people offer to do stuff for us, and then fail to deliver, that I had got into the habit of treating all such offers cum grano salis, but the advent of Alan shows that I should not be such a cynical old sod. Now he has become a guest blogger..

Apocryphal tales, particularly those of a frightening or gruesome nature, have become an inherent part of our contemporary folkloric culture. Seemingly a continuation of the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories while roasting chestnuts on the fire at Christmas, the recounting of fearsome fables finds a cosy, even comforting resonance with afficionados of the ghoulish and ghastly (and that’s me, by the way).

Accounts of werewolves, vampires and forest phantoms, told to earlier, more superstitious peoples have evolved and transmogrified into the ostensibly more credible, but no less grotesque urban myths of psychopathic hitchhikers, breast implants that explode at high altitudes and babies in microwave ovens.

The one unifying factor in all these tales of course, is the fact that, despite supposedly all being based on real incidents and factual accounts, there is very rarely - if ever - real nuts-and-bolts evidence to support any of them, and most importantly - never any witnesses who can claim to have personally experienced them.

Now I’m going to present the following story as openly and honestly as I can, and perhaps you can make up your own minds as to whether it is simply another example of a twice-told tale that has gotten out of hand, or perhaps that even the creepiest urban legends might, on occasion, have some basis in truth.

So let’s talk about camel spiders.

While it is a member of the arachnid family, the camel spider isn’t actually a true spider at all, belonging to the order solifugae, meaning: “Those who hide from the sun.” With over 1000 species, these creatures are to be found in the Middle east, Mexico and the Southwest United States. Also known as the wind spider, the sun spider and the wind scorpion, the camel spider is thus named because it is principally a desert dweller, making it’s home in shaded areas way from the arid heat. It’s main diet consists of insects, lizards and scorpions, and will routinely consume so much food, that it’s body will swell up like a balloon, rendering it incapable of movement.

This animal has become an almost legendary beast, more fitting perhaps for a crypto zoological classification than that of an ordinary creature, with horrific stories of it’s depredations and super-normal physical abilities that qualify it more as a mini-monster, than the comparatively innocuous creature that it actually is.

We are told that camel spiders can:

Run at 30 MPH; jump five feet in the air; produce a hellish scream like a kettle full of boiling tyrannosaurus urine; chase people at great speed across the sand; kill camels with their deadly venom and rip their stomachs open before eating them; have jaws that can cut through tin cans; prove almost impossible to kill, and worst of all, inject sleeping humans with their anesthetizing poison and dine on the unfortunate victim, chewing away great chunks of flesh.

In actual fact, camel spiders are quite fast, but their top speed is about 10 MPH. They may be able to jump small distances, but no one has ever filmed one jumping five feet. They have no real scream, but some species can produce a buzzing or hissing sound. As the troops in Iraq have found, camel spiders will run towards you in the desert, but this is only to get into the shade provided by your shadow, and not because it has designs on your blood. They would never attack an animal that is beyond it’s ability to subdue, so camels, needless to say, are safely off the menu. It is true that they have powerful jaws - or chelicera - but why would one ever attack a tin can? The toughness of these creatures is well documented, and in truth, they are hard little buggers, but even so, you don’t need kryptonite to take one out.

So what about the last, and most grisly legend to be attributed to the camel spider - that of creeping up on sleeping humans, and after anesthetizing them with their venom, feasting at leisure on their raw flesh?

Well that’s where the story begins…..

Regular blog readers will already know about my brother-in-law Alfie, and his encounter with a mysterious sea-creature while night-fishing in the Red Sea. Well, while he was in Saudi Arabia, Alfie had another run-in, so to speak with another example of zoological strangeness, and while perhaps not as spectacular, or indeed frightening as having a sea-monster emerge from the ocean right next to your boat, this particular experience was far more macabre.

The Saudi laws regarding alcohol are strict, and very comprehensive. Basically it’s illegal, and that’s the end of it. At least that’s the official line. An understanding of the cultural differences of workers from the west and other parts of the world have precipitated a ‘tolerance’ of sorts, in that as long as you strictly indulge any alcoholic proclivities behind closed doors, and don’t make a nuisance of yourself, then a ‘blind eye’ will generally be turned. As can be imagined, Alfie and his mates took full advantage of this loophole in the local judicial system, staging wild mash-ups on regular occasions.
The main problem was obtaining the alcohol in the first place, as they certainly couldn’t import it. One of the hotel workers used to smuggle in bottles of beer from some unknown source, but a couple of Arab tradesmen in the town, seeing a huge market for bootleg booze, had embarked -at the risk of severe punishment - on a sideline of ‘home brew’ production, which they manufactured in three steel drums in their attic room, hopefully away from the long arm - and lashes - of the law.

This beverage, according to Alfie, was somewhere between whiskey and weedkiller, one mouthful having the twin properties of absinthe and sulphuric acid. Needless to say, this stuff was not to be taken lightly, or as Alfie said: “If you managed to drink a whole bottle, you’ d wake up three days later feeling like your head had been kicked-in by an elephant.”

Alfie and his mates were mostly all young, single chaps who basically saw Saudi Arabia as a kind of working ‘jolly’, but mike, a slightly older guy, had family back home, and the separation would sometimes inspire periods of depression, during which he would drink heavily.

One evening, Alfie and the boys were holding one of their regular ‘sessions’, and the wine was flowing, so to speak. Mike had been over-indulging with the local brew, and to no one’s surprise, passed-out in a heap on the living-room floor. The guys carried him upstairs to his room, and laying him on his side in case he threw-up, left him to sleep it off.

The lash-up continued unabated, until about three hours later, when one of the chaps - Jerry -went up to check on Mike. I’m going to quote from Alfie here, and although of course I’m paraphrasing somewhat, it’s about as verbatim as I can make it:

“We heard Jerry come flying down the stairs, and he rushed into the room. He was frightened out of his life. He said: “It’s Mike, it’s Mike! He’s f*****g topped himself!” We never thought that Mike was suicidal, but he had been so down lately about missing his family, that being as p****d as he was, he might have hurt himself. So we all ran upstairs, and Mike was laying on the bed on his back, although we had left him on his side. The left side of the bed by his head and shoulder was soaked in blood.
We went round the side of the bed to see what kind of injury he had, and there was something moving slightly, just tucked-in under the side of his face. We got closer in, and saw that it was a camel spider that had crawled-in between the pillow and his head. These things are so common around the hotel and the aircraft plant where we worked that no one takes any notice of them.
They never bother anyone, and I couldn’t believe that they were dangerous. The thing was covered in blood, it’s body, legs, everything. It took us a moment to realise that the thing was feeding on Mike, and although I can’t remember properly, I think one of the guys threw-up. For a minute we were just stunned by what we were seeing, but someone at the back - I don’t remember who - ran out into the passageway, and came back a few seconds later with a broom from the cupboard. We gently nudged the spider way from Mike’s face, and to our surprise it didn’t move much, it fact it seemed blown-up like a little balloon.
We pushed it off the bed on to the floor, and it just laid there, as if it couldn’t move. Jerry - it might have been him who threw-up - ran downstairs and brought up his 357 Magnum. He took dead aim about two feet away from the spider, and let one go. In the small room it was like a cannon going off -my hearing in one ear was f****d-up for hours afterwards - and the spider went up like a bomb. It just exploded and it was all blood - like a shower.

We rushed over to Mike, and saw that the side of his face was partly eaten away. It was worse than any horror film that you can imagine. He had a huge wound under his left eye that was open and bleeding, and the lower part of his cheek was in bits - we could see through to his teeth.
We really thought he was dead, but carried him downstairs to the foyer, where we called an ambulance. We were really lucky as the ambulance seemed to arrive in no time, and Mike was taken to hospital. A couple of us went in the ambulance, and we had to admit that Mike had been
drinking, as the doctor wanted to give him an anaesthetic. The doctor said that it was important to clean out the wounds, and flooded them with a water/hydrogen peroxide solution. We told the doctor about the spider, and he said that although cases like this were extremely rare, they were not unheard-of. The doctor thought that Mike might have cut himself shaving or in some other way, as blood can attract camel spiders, who will feed on dead animals. A policeman came in to see what was happening, as he had seen Mike taken from the ambulance. He could see that we had been drinking but - bless him - he didn’t make an issue of it. He told us that camel spiders will never crawl on people who will move around even slightly, but as Mike was so out of it, the spider would have seen him as dead flesh, and just started eating. I don’t understand how the pain didn’t wake him up, but he must have been completely unconscious.

We said about the spider being bloated, and the policeman said that camel spiders often eat so much, that they cannot move for hours, and it made us all feel sick that the thing had been full of Mike’s blood.

Mike was pumped with antibiotics, and his wounds stitched up as well as the doctor could manage. Any infection the spider might have left cleared-up, and at the end of the day, all Mike really suffered was flesh-wounds.

Mike recovered completely, but was badly scarred. He couldn’t remember cutting himself in any way, so we could never figure out why the spider had crawled on to him in the first place. Perhaps the spider had smelt sweat and skin, and when Mike didn’t move, it just did what comes
naturally. After that, we all made sure that the rooms were clear every day, and none of us could sleep properly for a while - we used to wrap ourselves in mosquito nets.

I know that this all sounds like some weird story, but I was there - I saw it happen.”

So there it is. Alfie repeated this story to me many times over the years, and the details never changed. Nothing was ever embellished, or ‘rewritten’, and I can only believe that the tale is - at least substantially - based on true events.

Yes, it sounds like a classic apocryphal ‘camel spider’ story, but it’s a story I heard from someone who claims to have actually witnessed the whole thing. So all I can say, is make up your own minds…..

RICHARD FREEMAN: The largest known camel spider is about 5 inches across, but there have been persistent rumours of much larger ones. Could they be for real? Or are they a persistent British Armed Forces version of an Urban Legend? Even ordinary sized camnel-spiders have a very powerful bite for their size, and can snip apart tarantualas and scorpions. One could deliver a nasty bite to your fingers if provoked. But could, and would, a camel spider feed on an unconscious human it thought was dead? I'm no entomologist, so make what you will of this odd story...

I have read alot of cryptozoological and weird creature accounts. I can usualy work out if a story is fabricated. This one has a ring of truth about it. Could Mike have injuered himself in his sleep? or did the creature realy start to feed on what it thought was dead flesh.

If there are any solifugid nuts out there, let us know what you think.


Brompton7 said...

In the early 70s I lived in the the Sudan. At a party one night a camel spider ran through the french doors, across the room and under a piece of furniture. Everyone panicked and jumped on available chairs but a zoology student decided to catch it and did so. It just about fitted into a 20s Benson and Hedges pack so wasn't that large. The student said he would release it the next day so not to worry. A week went by and I asked him about it. He said he had opened the pack to release it but the spider was dead so despite rumours of its abilities it wasn't able to bite its way out of a cigarette packet. The student preserved in a specimen jar and may well have it to this day. Maybe the Sudanese camel spiders are not so dangerous?

dinosaurman said...

Hi Brompton7.

My brother-in-law said that before this incident, they had taken no notice of the camel spiders which, according to Alfie, were running around all over the place, and were considered completely harmless. They used to pick them up, and chuck them out of the window before the attack on Mike. Alfie thought that it was a chance in a million that Mike was out cold, and the spider just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.