Global Survey and Inventory of Solifugae
Commonly known as camel spiders, the arachnids of the order
Solifugae are bizarre creatures. In fact, they are not actually
spiders. The perhaps ill-named camel spiders display anatomical
features not found on any other arachnid. And they can run for a
really long time.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, Dr. Paula Cushing
of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science studies these unique
arachnids. Her team includes Dr. Lorenzo Prendini of the American Museum of
Natural History, Dr. Bob Wharton of Texas AMU, Warren Savary of
California Academy of Sciences, and Jack Brookhart of the Denver
Museum of Nature & Science.
"Part of our goal is to find out how these different families are
related to one another, which are most closely related to the
others, and whether there is evidence that some of the families
should be combined into one group or divided into additional
groups," Dr. Cushing said.
Dr. Cushing's lab also assesses the evolutionary relationships
among the genera (a lower category than family) of the family
Eremobatidae. This family of camel spiders is found only in North,
Central, and South America.
"We're just trying to fill in the gaps in our information," Dr.
One of these gaps includes the unique anatomy of camel spiders.
Camel spiders have strange structures not found on any other
arachnid -- such as tiny tree-like bumps on the undersides of male
pedipalps (appendages near the mouth). Dr. Cushing wants to
understand why they have these features and what they do.
Since Dr. Cushing began studying camel spiders in 1998, she has
developed a dichotomous passion for the unique arachnids. "I have a
real love-hate relationship with them," Dr. Cushing said, noting
that she sometimes calls camel spiders "the spawn of Satan."
According to Dr. Cushing, camel spiders are hard to find, hard to
preserve, and hard to understand. "Everything about them is
difficult," she said.
Still, Dr. Cushing continues her valuable research. Despite their
diversity (more than 1,100 species), global distribution, and
remarkable morphology, research on camel spiders has advanced
little in the past 50 years. Fewer than 10 researchers worldwide
are presently studying any aspect of their biology.
For more information about this research project, visit www.solpugid.com.