Solifugae (solifuges, solifugids, solpugids)
sun spiders, red romans, wind scorpions, wind spiders, camel
spiders, jerrymanders [English alternative names]; haarskeerders, baardskeerders,
rooimanne, jag spinnekoppe ('hunting spiders'), gift-kankers ('poison cancers'),
vetvreters ('fat eaters') [Afrikaans]
(animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra >
Arthropoda > Arachnomorpha > Cheliceriformes > Chelicerata > Euchelicerata
Families native to southern Africa
There are 12 families, 140 genera and 1075 species of
solifuges worldwide, with six families, 30 genera and 241 species recorded from
southern Africa. Thus, 22% of the world solifuge species occur in southern
Northern Cape (81 species) and Namibia have the highest number of species. The Orange River does
not restrict their distribution. Information from Dippenaar-Schoeman et al. (2006)
and Harvey (2003).
African family of solifuges, containing three genera and 20 species. All
three genera, and 11 species have been recorded from southern Africa.
Occurs in Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East, and further east to
Central Asia and China. There are also a few species in the southern parts
of South America. There are 28 genera and 189 species worldwide, with six
genera and 89 species native to southern Africa.
Distribution includes Africa, the Middle East and Asia (including China).
There are five genera and 26 species, of which three genera and seven
species occur in southern Africa.
A near endemic family to southern Africa, recorded as far north as Angola
and Zambia. There are two genera and 23 species, with both genera and 21
species recorded from southern Africa.
Endemic to southern Africa, except for one genus and species in its own
subfamily that occurs in South-East Asia. There are six genera and 16
species of which five genera and 15 species occur in southern Africa.
predominantly African family of solifuges but its distribution also includes
southern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. There are 17 genera and
191 species, with 11 genera and 98 species native to southern Africa.
This group of arachnids has various common names most of
which suggest that they are spiders, which they are not. The only obvious
similarity they share with spiders is the fact that they have eight legs.
Solifuges are solitary, have no venom glands and are not a threat to people
although they are very aggressive and fast moving and can inflict a painful
The name of the solifuge originates from the Latin
‘solifuga’ (a kind of venomous ant, or spider) that is in turn derived from
‘fugere’ (to flee; fly, run away) and ‘sol’ (sun). There are a number of common
names in both English and Afrikaans for these distinctive creatures, many of
which include the term 'spider' or even 'scorpion'. Although it is neither of
these, "spider" is preferred to "scorpion". The term 'sun spider' applies to
those species active during the day that tend to avoid the heat and dash from
shadow to shadow - often of a person - giving the alarming impression that they
are giving chase. The term 'red roman' probably originates from the Afrikaans
term 'rooiman' (red man) due to the red-brown colour of some species. The
popular terms 'haarskeerders' and 'baardskeerders' (Afrikaans for hair and beard
cutters) originate from the strange behaviour of some of these animals where
they use hair shed from animals. It appears that female solifuges find hair to
be an ideal nest liner. Reports from Gauteng suggested that Solifuges cut hair
off the scalps of people without them being aware of it. Solifuge chelicerae are
not adapted for cutting hair and until this can be proven it must remain a myth,
although they are able to crush the shaft of bird feathers. Other names include
jagspinnekoppe, vetvreters, sun spiders, jerrymanders, jerrymunglums, roman
spiders, wind scorpions, wind spiders or camel spiders. They are believed, by
some researchers, to be closely related to the Pseudoscorpiones but this is
refuted by the latest research. There is a hamlet in the Western Cape called
Baardskeersdersbos in honour of this fascinating arachnid.
Solifuges fluoresce under specific UV light of the correct
wavelength and wattage and although they do not fluoresce as brightly as
scorpions this is a method of collecting them. LED UV torches do not presently
work on solifuges. Little is known about this fascinating order. Research is
needed as well as a specific book to help understand and identify these fearsome
but completely harmless creatures.
Solifuge male head with flagellum. [image N. Larsen
Solifuge male head seen ventrally. [image N. Larsen
Solifuge palp with suctorial organ. [image N. Larsen
Solifuge segmented tarsus and claws. [image N. Larsen
Underside of solifuge showing malleoli on the
fourth pair of legs. [image N. Larsen
The solifuges body is divided in two parts: a prosoma
(carapace) and the opisthosoma (abdomen).
The prosoma is divided into three sections:
the propeltidium (head) contains the chelicerae,
pedipalps and first two pairs of legs.
the mesopeltidium contains the third pair of legs.
the metapelptidium contains the forth pair of legs.
Solifuges appear to have 10 legs but in fact, the first
pair of appendages is the pedipalps that are very strong and are used for
various functions such as drinking, catching, feeding, mating and climbing.
most unusual feature is the unique suctorial organs on the tips of their
pedipalps. Some solifuges are known to be able to use these organs to climb
vertical surfaces, but this does not appear to be required in the wild. All the
legs have a sub divided femur (prefemur and postfemur) while the
tarsus may, or
may not, be segmented with tarsal claws, The first pair of legs is thin and
short and used as tactile organs (feelers) and not for locomotion and may or may
not have tarsal claws. Solifuges, together with pseudoscorpions, lack a patella
(a leg segment found in spiders, scorpions, and other arachnids). The fourth
pair of legs is the longest and carries the malleoli, unique racquet organs, on
the coxa and subdivided trochanter and probably have chemosensory properties.
Most species have 5 pairs of malleoli while juveniles and some species only have
Solifuges vary in size (10-70mm body length) and can have a leg span
up to 160 mm. The head is large, supporting large strong chelicerae (jaws). The
propeltidium (carapace) is raised to house the enlarged muscles that control the
chelicerae. Because of this raised structure the name “camel spiders” is used in
America. The chelicera has a dorsal fixed finger and a movable ventral finger,
both armed with cheliceral teeth for crushing prey. These teeth are one of the
features used in identification. The rostrum (mouth) is situated between the
pedipalpal coxa. Solifuges have two simple eyes on a raised ocular tubercle on
the anterior edge of the propeltidium but it is not yet known if it is only to
detect light or darkness or has a visual capability. There is a belief that the
vision may be acute and even used to watch for aerial predators. It is stated
that the eyes are very complex so further research is needed. Rudimentary
lateral eyes are usually absent.
The opisthosoma (abdomen) consists of eleven somites
(segments) and it is considered that the metapeltidium is regarded as the first
of the segments or alternatively covers the first. The somites are covered
dorsally by a tergite and ventrally by a sternite. The abdomen is soft and
expandable that enables the animal to eat large amounts of food. Solifuges,
similar to pseudoscorpions and
harvestmen, lack book lungs, replaced
ventrally by two tracheal spiracles on the prosoma and two or three on the
opisthosoma. The genitalia are situated on the 2nd sternite with the anal
tubercle on the last somite.
Solifuges are mostly nocturnal but there are diurnal
species that are usually more brightly coloured with light and dark bands
running the length of the body, while the nocturnal species are a yellowish
brown and often larger. The body of many species is covered with setae of
various lengths, some up to 50mm resembling a shiny hair ball. Many of these
setae are tactile sensors.
Solifuges prey on various
dead birds and
even each other. Some species are exclusively termite predators. Some solifuges
sit in the shade and ambush their prey. Others run their prey down and once they
catch it they eat while the prey is still alive with vigorous ripping and
cutting actions of the powerful jaws. Video footage has revealed that solifuges
catch their prey with their forward stretched pedipalps using the distal
suctorial organs to fasten onto the prey. The suctorial organ is usually not
visible as it is encased in a dorsal and ventral cuticular lip. Once the prey
has been caught and transferred to the chelicerae the sucktorial gland is
enclosed. Haemolymph pressure is used to open and protrude the suctorial organ.
This superficially resembles a shortened chameleon tongue. The adhesive
properties appear to be van der Waals force.
Several raptors, owls and small mammals consume solifuges
in their diets including the
African civet and
Male solifuges have aerial-like flagella on the chelicerae
(like backward swept aerials), uniquely shaped for each species, that probably
play some part in mating. Males may use these flagella to insert the
spermatophore into the females’ genital opening. The male seeks out a female,
using its suctorial organ he rips the female from her retreat, males use their
pedipalps to coerce the female into a frozen state, and sometimes massages her
abdomen with his chelicerae while he deposits a spermatophore in the female's
genital opening. About 20 to 200 eggs are produced and hatch within about four
weeks. The first stage of development, once hatched, is a larva and once the
casing has cracked open the larva moults into a solifuge nymph. Solifuges live
for about a year and pass through 9-10 instars before maturity. They are
solitary animals living in scraped out sand retreats, often under rocks and logs
or burrows up to 230mm deep. The chelicerae are used for digging while the body
bulldozes the sand out or alternately the hind legs are used to clear the sand.
They are difficult to keep in captivity and normally die within 1-2 weeks.
Solifuge in Kalahari sands (Northern Cape)
excavating burrow at night. [image H Robertson, Iziko ©]
- Dippenaar A. 1993. Sunspiders - some interesting facts. African
Wildlife. 47(3): 120-122.
- Dippenaar-Schoeman A, Gonzalez Reyers AX, Harvey MS. 2006. A
check-list of the Solifugae (sun spiders) of South Africa (Arachnida:
Solifugae). African Plant Protection 12:70-92.
- Harvey MS. 2003. Catalogue of the smaller arachnid orders of the world.
CSIRO Publishing, Australia.
- Klann AE. 2009. Histology And ultrastructure of Solifuges -
comparative studies of organ systems of solifuges (Arachnida, Solifugae)
with special focus on functional analyses and phylogenetic interpretations. link
- Punzo F.1998. The Biology of Camel-Spiders (Arachnida. Solifugae).
Kluwer Acedemic Publishers.301pp.