KINGMAN - You might have felt one crawl across your foot during a nighttime Netflix binge. You casually brushed it off thinking is was a fly or moth, then saw something scatter away in the corner of your eye, looked down and let the terror sink in.
It goes by different names: camel spider, whip scorpion, wind scorpion or the Kalahari Ferrari. They've been mistaken for vinegaroons and even scorpions themselves.
They are arachnids and go by the more common name: sun spider. The scientific name is solifugae, Latin for "those who flee from the sun." Despite their twisted appearance, they are neither spiders nor scorpions.
Locals may be used to their seasonal presence when the bugs take up residence in shady porch crevices, window sills, under bedsheets and inside bathroom slippers. Out of state transplants and tourists are probably unfamiliar with the parade of stinging, biting creatures that roam this desert habitat.
Out of the woodwork
The warm weather has brought out armies of pests, including sun spiders, and pest control companies aren't suffering any loss of business.
"We are starting to see more of them in both Kingman and Bullhead City," said Matt Hanrahan, General Manager of Baron Services. "The only real question we get is if they are poisonous and to identify them in general. They are a nuisance every summer and are much more aggressive than the scorpion."
"With all the new construction going on the Kingman there's an influx of insects," said Mohave Pest Control's Lisa, who only wanted to be identified by first name. "(The construction) is digging up the dirt and moving stuff around. The bugs are on the run."
Menacing as they seem, sun spiders lack venom and are for the most part harmless. The yellow/tan arachnids have eight legs like a spider but also two long, forearm-like pedipalps and vicious, bug crushing chelicerae (jaws) tipped with poisonous looking pincers. They will deliver a painful bite if aggravated. The jaws and pincers help capture, mince and consume the creatures' insect-based diet. In a way, they're a cleaning crew for the over-represented cockroach community.
The silver dollar-sized nightmare-weavers can grow between one and six inches and have been clocked at crawling speeds up to 10 miles per-hour, meaning they could keep up with you while driving through a school zone.
They detest sunlight and when exposed, scatter for shade and shelter, hence the seemingly hostile and aggressive attitude. They'll also gun for light during the evening, making a beeline across your sandals on the way towards a porch light.
According to Mentalfloss.com, sun spiders/camel spiders have garnered quite a bit of attention since the start of the Iraq War. Photos manipulated by depth-of-field and forced perspective gave the public misrepresented images of a crab-sized sun spiders and rumors by American soldiers in Iraq that the spiders were eating camel and human flesh. In reality, the bugs don't pose much of a threat to humans, since they'd much rather munch on something more bite-sized. And solifuges aren't limited to the deserts of Iraq. There are species found in the desert regions of every continent but Australia and Antarctica.
Shane Walker, a physician assistant at Kingman Regional Medical Center Urgent Care, said they get a few insect bite patients a year, mostly during this time of warmer, dryer temperatures. The bites are considered Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a staph infection commonly mistaken for bug bites, until proven otherwise.
"Most of the spiders we have in our area are mostly benign," he said. "True spider bites will have necrosis of the skin. The venom kills off the tissues."
The black widow is the only real dangerous spider to look out for. Despite claims of sightings, brown recluse spiders tend to inhabit the southern states.
Again, the sun spider doesn't produce venom so an ER visit probably isn't necessary. Should you suspect you've been bitten, immediately wash the bite area to prevent infection and apply a cold compress or ice pack to reduce pain and swelling. Antihistamine creams and over the counter medicines such as Benadryl or Zertec can be applied to the bite or taken to reduce pain and itching. Secondary infections can be introduced by intense scratching of the bite area.
Other symptoms such as intense swelling, dizziness or nausea might indicate a black widow bite or scorpion sting.
"Scorpion stings come in now and then but the most we can do is just observe the patient to make sure they don't have an allergic reaction. Unless the bite is witnessed, we really don't know what they are. It could be anything from a bad reaction to a mosquito or other insect bite."
Common sense advice is to keep an eye on areas sun spiders might hide such as under lawn and porch furniture, near door sills and houseplants and even in couch crevices or between bed sheets.
This is the desert, the weather is hot and like just about any other organism, sun spiders are looking for a place to cool off. From the looks of it, these bugs are here to stay.
"We try to remind people that we live in their house, not the opposite," Hanrahan said. "They were here first and their need for food and water is just like any human being or other animal or insect."
"General pest control service helps control their populations. There is nothing special that can be done. We make sure we treat their harborage areas (place they hang out). They are extremely hardy insects, they're hard to kill."