Tag Archives: escaping from the sun

The deadly Peregrinatio cimex

Everyone is familiar with measles, mumps, rubella and the like. These are minor, mostly childhood infections that are well under medical control and no longer a real threat to anyone with reasonable access to medical care. So, forget about those. Africa faces bigger challenges from bugs; from really small bugs to the somewhat larger.

The bite of the mosquito can transmit Plasmodium falciparum and cause malaria. The bite of the tstetse fly can transmit Trypanosoma brucei and cause sleeping sickness. The bite of a meercat can transmit the Lyssavirus that causes rabies. Tramping on a rusty nail can result in an infection with Clostridium tetani and cause tetanus. The list is endless and the threats diverse, and each infection is costly to treat.

But none is as costly as the infection with Peregrinatio cimex. Spread through exposure to the magnificent scenery; the blue skies by day and the star-filled skies at night; the wonderful assortment of animals and the incredibly diverse people, Peregrinatio cimex is deadly. Although physically painless, it eats up the family budget rapidly and is no respecter of pension funds, college funds or any other jealously hoarded sum of money identified for some well-conceived, all-important objective. For Peregrinatio cimex is the Travel Bug.

Travel bug

Just a single bite from the P. cimex causes itchy feet and restless legs; the need to keep moving on to see and experience new things. The need to see what is over the next hill, across the next river, down that interesting looking track. The need to visit places just because they have fascinating names, or because you heard mention of them sometime in the dim and distant past. Glazed eyes at the thought of work, clearing instantly at the sight of a road map of some exotic clime. The bite of the Travel Bug is largely incurable, and although sufferers may concede that it is nice to return home after a trip, a relapse is inevitable and they will soon feel compelled to move on, forever bemoaning the shortage of time and money.

A bite by the Travel Bug will lead to all manner of new experiences, including exposure to more bugs. Some of the larger bugs that will be encountered are interesting and less destructive than those referred to in the first paragraph; some are even large enough to be photographed. Let’s look at a few.

Here we have the fierce-looking (but harmless) Koringkriek, or Armoured Ground Cricket.  In some areas of Namibia there are armies of these wandering on the paths at certain times of the year, migrations may be seen crossing the road, many losing their lives under the rolling rubber of passing vehicles.

Koringkriek

Then there are scorpions.  These little creatures have tails that curve up over their backs and their poison is potent enough to ruin a holiday.  It is always advisable to wear closed shoes after dark when they are most active.

Scorpion

And the infamous camel spider.  This  nasty little beast has a number of aliases because it isn’t really a spider at all, but a solifigud (a rather awkward name which apparently means ‘escaping from the sun’).  Also known as a sun spider or wind scorpion, this is not a gogga to mess with.  It moves very quickly and often appears to run after someone walking in the sun, although what it is really doing is looking for shade.  We were terrorized by camel spiders on Christmas night at Khamkirri on the Orange River (and it wasn’t only the ladies who were climbing on chairs!)

This first picture is of a female camel spider –

Female Camel Spider

The male is much smaller and has a very ferocious-looking face.  Love the red hair!!!

Male Camel Spider

On a larger scale and perfectly harmless, but a bit alarming to find climbing on your chair is the Turner’s Tubercled Gecko (not a bug per se but it falls into the creepy crawlie class).

Turners Tubercled Gecko Turners Tubercled Gecko

In fact folding camping chairs seem to be magnets for bugs.  Put a hand on this hairy caterpillar and you could spend the next hour getting rid of its prickly hairs.

Hairy caterpillar

Post script:
For those with a scientific bent, the binomial Peregrinatio cimex derives from the Latin “Peregrinatio” meaning “travel” and the Latin “cimex” meaning “bug”. The Travel Bug. Of course it doesn’t really exist (as if you thought it did!), but doesn’t it make a wonderful excuse for all those rather expensive and pointless excursions?

The Camel Spider – legendary terror of the desert

So what does a housewife ironing in Windhoek have in common with troops who fought in the Gulf War in Iraq?   Believe it or not it is the infamous camel spider.  These spiders have been known to bite soldiers in the Middle East and as a result, many myths and legends have surfaced about them.

As I said, I was busy ironing when I noticed a movement across the floor next to me.  On closer inspection I saw what looked like a ferocious cross between a spider and a scorpion.  Not being too partial to having spiders or scorpions on the loose around the house I decided to catch it and photograph it before releasing it in the bush, which I duly did with very little resistance or aggression from the arachnid in question.

The Camel Spider

The Camel Spider

Two years later I have been able to identify it as a Solifugid, also commonly known as a camel spider, wind scorpion or a sun spider.   Solifugid means ‘escaping from the sun’.  In Southern Africa it also has the name of “baardskeerder” which translated means beard cutter – apparently they have been known to cut human and animal hair to line their underground nests.  According to numerous write-ups on the internet this weird creature is greatly feared, mainly due to the many myths that abound about its terrible bite and its aggression towards humans.

I was interested to see that there are a number of websites dedicated to camel spiders – sites that perpetuate the myths and others that try and set the record straight.  Some of the rather bizarre stories circulating about these creatures are that they are lightning fast and can move at speeds of over 30 mph;  that they carry scorpions on their backs (hence the name camel spider); that they scream as they chase a person and that their bite can cause dreadful damage to human flesh.

In truth, they are much slower and move at a top speed of 10 mph, which is still pretty fast for a spider of this size.  Their venom is not poisonous to humans, but if a bite gets infected then obviously the wound will turn nasty.  They do not scream at or chase people, but they do like to keep up with one’s shadow to keep out of the sun, which may give the scary impression that they are chasing someone.  Their enormous jaws are used to kill and chew their prey, which mostly consists of insects, spiders, small rodents and lizards.

Urban legend or not, it is a rather scary-looking creature and I’m glad that my encounter with it was peaceful and didn’t end up with me getting more than just a nice photograph.

Postscript: I have since been able to photograph a male camel spider.  As you can see, it is much smaller than the female in the picture above.   This is a macro shot which shows up his beautiful head of red hair.  I’m still not sure how I had the courage to get that close!

Male Camel Spider