It was way back during the late eighties, perhaps 1988 that I saw this little creature called the Sun Spider scurrying just outside the forest guest house in Tamil Nadu. I followed it with the help of a torch before it disappeared into the wilderness. The place I was in was very warm and dry with stunted vegetation and perhaps a bit rocky too. Ever since, I have wanted to see it again and this time around get some pictures of it.
23 years had elapsed; I was at JLR’s new Sloth Bear Resort near Hampi. The habitat was very similar to where I had seen the Sun Spider. This brought old memories back. I had just spoken about the Sun Spider to a friend and hoped we get to see it during our short stay there. This conversation happened when we had just started dinner. To our amazement, even before we finished dinner, we saw a little creature running at a breakneck speed from across the dining area. It seemed as if the creature had heard our conversation!
We allowed the creature to run off the tiled floor. The cameras quickly came out and we busied ourselves taking pictures of the sun spider from various angles. But what fascinated me most was a head on perspective.
Picture showing eyes and chelicerae.
The Sun Spider is not a spider. For an untrained eye the sun spider does not even look like an arachnid at the first look. It has 10 appendages (4 pairs of legs and 1 pair of leg-like pedipalps) attached to its body. However, on closer examination, one can see that the Sun Spider also shares the same body plan with most other arachnids. Interestingly, the Sun Spiders are neither poisonous (like some scorpions) nor can they produce silk (like spiders) though, they are arachnids like scorpions and spiders.
Sun Spiders are carnivorous. They will make a meal of almost anything they can overpower. It could be insects, small arthropods and on occasion even small lizards! They are very well equipped to tackle such prey. They have a pair of particularly large chelicerae (organ used to grasp and chew food). This is the most noticeable feature of these creatures.
Sun Spiders are known by other names like Camel Spider, Wind Scorpion and many others. The origin of many of these names is not clear. But the order to which they belong `Solifugae’ means “those that flee from the sun”- possibly referring to their nocturnal habits. But the fact is that there are both nocturnal and diurnal solifugids.
Seeing the solifuge sprinting across the dining area, running after it and photographing it was most certainly the highlight of the visit, particularly after such a long wait. This only highlights how nature can spring surprises !