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11.04.2003

the solution to everyone's problem

Moments, maybe even hours, maybe even half a day, after I'd posted last night's "thank you" to the googlers who'd let me know they were searching for info on African Cave-Dwelling Spiders, a friendly surfer named Brian said this: "I came here off of google, and yet found no relevant information. Very disappointing." I've been panned, and frankly I'll not put up with that. So I went slightly askew in my sidewardness, and did a little sleuthering. Thought about pseudoscorpions, went from that to whipscorpions, from that to tailless whipscorpions. Bingo. What do I win?

(Disclaimer: I can't verify in any real way that I'm right here. I've got no doubts, but I've also got nothing to go on but my memory of the show. Either way, these things are very cool, and very creepy, and if you're one of those persons who gets all creeped out by pictures of creepy crawlies, you might wanna turn off your images, or divert your eyes right at the right moment. But whatever you do, read on, because I said so. I've spent some few hours digging this stuff up and I'm seeing twitching legs out of the corners of my eyes, all around me. I won't sleep right, I'll be itchy. Worth it, though, as I've still not found any source linking the show to the things. I'm sure upon posting this I'll find five others who've done a better (read: funnier) job of detailing this stuff.)

Tailless whipscorpion is the common name for the Arachnid order Amblypygi.

Tailless Whipscorpion, any of a group of spider-like arachnids known for their long, whip-like front legs. Also known as whip spiders or amblypygids, tailless whipscorpions are neither true scorpions nor true spiders, but resemble a cross between the two. They live in humid tropical and subtropical habitats, hiding under leaf litter and debris by day and emerging to hunt at night. A few species dwell in caves, and some species are common in houses. There are about 70 known species of tailless whipscorpions.

The body of most tailless whipscorpions is less than 5 cm (2 in) long, but the foremost pair of legs is extremely long, up to 25 cm (10 in).

Its pedipalps, or leg-like mouthparts, are stout and spiny and are used to capture and hold insect prey while it is torn apart by the chelicerae, or fangs.

The part about "70 known species" is apparently not definitive. In a review of the book Whip Spiders (Chelicerata: Amblypygi) Their Biology, Morphology and Systematics by Peter Weygoldt, Apollo Books says there are 120 known species.

The "whip" part would seem to derive from their forelegs, which can be exceedingly long and are used to smell and feel for prey. In a lot of cases these legs resemble, to my untrained eye, the antennae of some insects. There's also conflicting terminology relating to how many legs they have; some sources call the claw-like appendages legs, while others call those mouthparts, as in the excerpt above.

These things are non-poisonous.

Here's an illustration of one type from desertmuseum.org:


(photo displayed here to spare their bandwidtch, cuz I get upwards of twenty billion hits a minute.)

Here are a few photographs of different varieties.

An Unidentified Amblypygid.

Here are some pictures that resemble what I remember seeing on the Fear Factor episode:


From this page, in Belgian I think;looks like it would be a cool page for spider stuff all around if I could read it.


From Mark M Lucas' Scorpions, Tarantulas, and other Invertebrates Gallery. (click to enlarge a tad.)

These things seem to be available as pets, called various things depending on where I'm looking. Someone found one in England, which isn't where they belong:

Following further closer examination and advice and comments from Peter Weygoldt, the world authority on Amblypygi, it would appear to be D. variagatus. This species, or rather species group, from Africa is the one that is used in the exotic pet trade.

The ones that are available as pets, called Tanzanian Tailless Whip Scorpions or Tanzanian Giant Whip Scorpions, look pretty damned close to my memory's picture of what the people were eating on the show. It makes sense that there's a way to get the things they were eating that doesn't involve Joe Rogan spelunking in Africa, too. (Also, if you're interested, which I know you aren't, there's a full taxonomy of this particular species available at that central pets place; it's a javascript link so I can't link it directly.)

Also found a story about an entomologist's field trip in Puerto Rico where he and his students saw a big one. Eating a frog. (If you read this, you may notice that there's talk about the sexual practices of these things. Apparently this is something worth studying, as information about it is turning up all over.)

Here's an anthropomorphic amblypygid. (from the Strange Menagerie, a site containing the personal artwork of one Carrie E. Graham, who is "an undergraduate student in the school of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, planning to get a graduate degree in entomology (specializing in arachnology)." And she draws, too. Those titles really rock. And then I nearly missed this, which is a "ventral view of the exoskeleton of [her] pet Damon diadema (an amblypygid)." Nice.)


Links:

Spiders on the Web
Arachnid Webring
Araneae, Spiders of North-West Europe

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