Are camel spiders invading Phoenix?

10:57 AM, Mar 7, 2012   |    comments
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Phoenix -- A creepy rumor has begun circulating in Arizona: giant spiders native to Iraq are now making their home in Phoenix.

A service member contacted our sister station KPNX and told them that camel spiders had stowed away in the footlockers of returning troops and are taking up residence in Arizona.

A simple search on YouTube will quickly why any arachnophob's skin crawls when seeing the large arthropod. One video shows Man vs. Wild's Bear Grylls eating them on the Discovery Channel, while others show troops in Iraq pulling pranks with them.

Should we be worried about them coming over stateside, or is it just an urban legend?

"They're actually very harmless," says Sarah Simko at the Phoenix Zoo. "They can bite, but they don't have venom, though.  They don't hunt people down and chase you down, they're actually very nocturnal. If you disturb them when they're in the sun, all they're trying to do is get away from the heat."

There's already some scary animals you can find in Arizona: diamondback rattlesnakes, scorpions, and gila monsters to name a few.

And yes, there are indeed camel spiders.

But the rumor that they traveled back with troops is pure fiction -- species of camel spiders have long lived in Arizona.

"The problem with that myth is that people are going to believe it's true, because they'll start noticing the native species that we do have, and assume it's the exotic species that's been brought back," Simko explains.

She adds, "It's unlikely they would be able to sneak through customs and survive a trip in a footlocker with the soldiers ... it is possible, I suppose with any invasive species it can happen. So possible, but extremely unlikely."

So why do these creepy looking arachnids get such a bad rap as blood suckers and camel killers, and why the rumors of them coming to the Southwest?

Plain and simple: the ones overseas can be BIG and scary looking. They freak people out, and as rumors go, word spreads.

"They can get up to six inches in body length so their jaws can chew through tough skin like a camel's," says Simko. "However, they cannot kill a camel."

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