Camel Spiders: The Evolutionary Secrets of a Neglected Arachnid


Camel spiders are not actually spiders, but a type of arachnid that belongs to the order Solifugae. They are also known as wind scorpions, sun spiders, or solpugids. They have long been a subject of fascination and fear due to their remarkable features such as aggression, exceptional running speed, and adaptation to arid environments. However, their evolutionary history and relationships have remained largely unknown, until now.

A New Study Reveals the Hidden Tree of Camel Spiders

A team of researchers led by Prof. Prashant Sharma of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Dr. Efrat Gavish-Regev of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has successfully established the first-ever comprehensive molecular tree (phylogeny) of camel spiders. Their study, titled “Neglected no longer: Phylogenomic resolution of higher-level relationships in Solifugae”, has been published in the journal iScience.

Camel Spiders: The Evolutionary Secrets of a Neglected Arachnid
Camel Spiders: The Evolutionary Secrets of a Neglected Arachnid

The researchers used advanced sequencing technologies and a novel dataset to analyze the genes of 110 camel spider specimens from 12 families and 44 genera. They were able to overcome the challenges of using historical material that had degraded DNA by targeting specific regions of the genome that are conserved in all camel spiders.

The molecular tree they constructed revealed new insights into the evolutionary history and relationships of camel spiders, as well as their biogeography and diversification patterns.

Camel Spiders Originated Before the Dinosaurs Went Extinct

One of the surprising findings of the study was that camel spiders originated around 250-300 million years ago, during the Permian period. This means that they are older than most other arachnids, and that they survived the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs and many other species 66 million years ago.

The researchers also found that most of the camel spider families diverged from each other before this extinction event, suggesting that they have a long and stable evolutionary history.

Camel Spiders Have Two Major Groups in the Americas

Another interesting discovery was that camel spiders have two major groups in the Americas, which are part of a larger group that originated in tropical regions. The first group includes the families Ammotrechidae and Daesiidae, which are mostly found in South America. The second group includes the families Eremobatidae and Mummuciidae, which are mostly found in North America.

The researchers hypothesized that these two groups diverged from each other when the ancient supercontinent Pangaea broke apart, separating South America from North America. They also suggested that these groups adapted to different environmental conditions, such as aridity and temperature.

Camel Spiders Need More Attention and Conservation

The study also highlighted the need for more attention and conservation efforts for camel spiders, which are often neglected or misunderstood by the public and scientists alike. The researchers noted that camel spiders are important predators and scavengers in many ecosystems, especially in deserts. They also pointed out that camel spiders are threatened by habitat loss, climate change, and human activities.

The researchers hope that their study will spark more interest and research on camel spiders, as well as raise awareness and appreciation for these amazing arachnids.


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