Tuesday, September 20, 2022

That Dreaded Word – Blight

A leaf with the rust-colored discoloration caused by Rose rust, a fungal disease.
Rose Rust - Phragmidium mucronatum
One of the most appalling words to a gardener is “blight”. When your garden becomes infected with
blight there is no easy solution and plant damage is inevitable. Sometimes (but by no means always) it can mean your grow is a total washout. The best action to take against blight is proaction, so here’s some general information to help you understand what you could be dealing with. 

An Anthurium plant by a window with discolored leaves from blight.
Anthurium with blight
The term “blight” refers not to one specific disease but is an umbrella term for a number of plant diseases with similar symptoms that present and spread quickly. Both outdoor and houseplants can be affected by blight. Plants suffering from a blight disease first exhibit lesions on leaf tissues, which is where the pathogen has entered the plant. The leaves will then begin yellowing, spotting, browning and withering, until finally dying off. Blights are not limited to the leaves, they can affect the flowers, fruit and stems – the entire plant, in fact. All of the blights will follow this general progression of disease, but particular blights may have specific characteristics in their symptoms. For instance, fire blight is so named because it’s said the leaves look burnt, and shothole blight (aka coryneum blight) creates lesions that look like the leaves have been shot through. 

Zucchini leaves showing the hail damage that can allow pathogens to enter the plant.
Hail-battered zucchini plants
Blights are caused by bacterial or fungal infections. There are thousands of plant pathogenic fungal diseases and are generally considered the most common plant ailments. This is not to downplay the effect of the bacterial pathogens, which is considerable. Pathogens that cause blight enter the plant through tears in the plant or leaf tissue or natural openings like stomata. Environmental and growing conditions are generally the cause of both types of diseases. Cool moist conditions that persist, changes in humidity and temperature, storms and high wind, and infected soil or seeds can all be contributing factors to blight. 

Some of the many blights caused by bacterial pathogens are:

A branch of a plum showing the reddish-brown on fire blight.
Fire blight on a plum tree
Bacterial leaf blights (caused by Xanthomonas spp), which affects many common cultivars from carrots to rice

Crown gall disease (caused by Agrobacterium tumefaciens), which affects more than 600 species of vegetables, weeds, trees and shrubs 

Early blight (caused by Alternaria spp), which affects tomatoes and potatoes

Fire blight (caused by Erwinia amylovora), which affects pome fruits and mountain ash

Halo blight ( caused by Pseudomonas savastanoi pv. Phaseolicola), which affects edible bean crops and bean seed crops

2 red strawberries and one grey one covered in botrytis.
Botrytis on strawberries
Some of the many blights caused by fungal pathogens are:

Ashy stem blight aka charcoal rot (caused by Macrophomina phaseoli), which affects over 500 plant species, including cucurbits, soybeans and corn

Botrytis aka grey mold (caused by Botrytis cinerea), which affects everything from cannabis to vine crops 

Chestnut blight spotting on the leaves of a chestnut tree.
Chestnut blight attacking a tree
Chestnut blight (Cryphonectria heterostrophus), an invasive disease which has devastated chestnut trees across the US

Rhizoctonia root rot (caused by Rhizoctonia solani), which affects a wide range of plant species from legumes to ornamentals

Southern blight aka white mold (caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum), which affects hundreds of crops, from sunflowers to cole crops and tomatoes

Due to the devastating effect and sheer number of varieties of blight diseases, treatment should be dealt with according to the variety of blight you’re dealing with, the type of crop of crop you’re growing, and your growing conditions. There is no one, simple solution. Nevertheless, there are some growing and treatment protocols that are beneficial across the board as follows:

Crop rotation between common host plants and non-host species of plants

A woman in Vietnam watering  her fields by hand. She has a wooden harness over her shoulders that supports the 2 buckets in her hands. Practicing strict sanitation – this means everything from cleaning tools to avoid cross-contamination to removing pathogens from the soil

Proper watering – overwatering or poor drainage is a contributor to blights as they thrive in damp

Proper air circulation – especially crucial in indoor or semi-indoor grows

Thorough weeding, including the removal of volunteers and post-harvest weeding -  care should be given to the proper handling of removed materials to avoid cross-contamination

A wheelbarrow full of weeds on a grassy lawn.
Well-balanced and consistent nutrition – many blights are associated with specific nutrient deficiencies

Pruning to eliminate infected plant parts, but do so carefully to avoid harming plants that are not sick and use sanitized tools to eliminate spreading the disease or encouraging disease progression 

Keep plants as stress-free as possible

A man caressing a huge leaf. The text says, "I just love a good leaf".
We have many excellent products that address both bacterial and fungal diseases in our Disease Control section. You may find what you need by simply scrolling through there, or you can try searching for a particular disease. You won’t find every disease possibility out there, but the most important diseases are addressed in either a dedicated page or within our products. We also have a substantial Cleaning and Sanitation section that contains a selection of excellent products to fill that need. 

Take Care 

Submitted by Pam


Thursday, September 15, 2022

5 Cool Things About Nematodes

An image from a microscope of a nematode that's been colored pink for contrast.

It’s September, and here at ARBICO, it’s Beneficial Nematode season. Every year we put our Beneficial Nematodes on sale at this time to encourage our customers to get them in their garden before winter and get a jump on any soil-dwelling pests looking for a place to overwinter. If you’ve been using them, you know how big a difference they make and if you are not familiar with what they can do, now is the time to try them out. Beneficial Nematodes really should be considered an essential garden tool. To set your thought on these tiny beings, I’ve gathered some interesting tidbits about nematodes in general. 

THEY ARE LITERALLY EVERYWHERE

Antarctic soil nematodes - Scottnema lindsayae
Antarctic Soil Nematodes

According to a study done in 2019, there are 57 billion nematodes for every human on our planet and they make up four out of every five animals. The type of nematode that we sell here at ARBICO are the type that prey on insects, known as Entomopathogenic Nematodes (EPNs), but they are only one of the many varieties found in the land, water and bodies of living things on earth (for more on this, see my nematode blog from 2019). The air is the only place in our world that they do not inhabit (they have no wings). In the aforementioned article, the researchers discovered that the majority of nematodes actually live in artic and sub-artic environments and not the rainforest, as one might expect (see a fun video here). An oft-repeated anecdote about the ubiquitous nematode says that if you were to remove all but nematodes from the planet Earth’s topography would still be recognizable in nematode mass that remains . 

THEY ARE ANCIENT

Artist's version of the Devonian Period - fish are coming onto land.
Nematodes are not just everywhere; they have been here way before us. The oldest nematode discovered thus far is the Palaeonema phyticum and it lived during the Devonian period 419-359 million years ago (many millions of years before vertebrates).This nematode was found trapped in amber inside a land plant, but it had some characteristics of aquatic nematodes. This was the long period when the land, and all its flora and fauna, was developing from the sea, so these characteristics were no doubt a reflection of its evolution from a water nematode to parasite of land animals. As far as humans go, there have been references to nematodes and how they plague people as far back as 1500 BC. 

THEY ARE CLIMATE WARRIORS 

A man(from the back) working at a computer with an image of nematodes on it. There are flowers on the desk beside the computer.
Soil nematodes naturally create healthy soil and are essential to a thriving ecosystem. They aid in maintaining a healthy soil structure by aerating it, play a huge role in decomposition, and are active participants in cycling carbon and nutrients. The artic nematode scientists I mentioned before determined that a large and healthy nematode population is directly related to soil carbon. In other words, the more nematodes there are the more carbon is kept in the soil. There are scientists out there right now hoping to find a way to address climate change by studying how nematodes use carbon and their effect on its emissions.

THEY'VE BEEN KEY IN IMPORTANT SCIENCE

An image of 2  Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes.
Caenorhabditis elegans 
Nematodes have proven to be a boon for researchers when a multi-cellular subject is needed. They are amazingly similar to human biology in several important ways – they develop from a single cell, have complex development, maintain a nervous system and even seem to have the capacity to learn (more here). It seems safe to say that these characteristics are what drew scientists to the Caenorhabditis elegans nematode when looking for a study subject for DNA research. It ultimately became the first multi-cellular organism to have its DNA fully sequenced. This scientific breakthrough was a world-changing event that has led to a great many scientific and cultural changes. On another note, this particular nematode was on board the Space Shuttle Columbia when it exploded on re-entry on February 1, 2003. All seven astronauts were killed, but their test-subject nematodes survived. For more on how this happened and what scientists were able to learn from it, check out this article

THEY CAN BE ZOMBIES

A hand protruding from the dirt.
Okay, so not exactly zombies because they don’t eat brains; but they can go into a living-dead state. They do this through a process called cryptobiosis, whereby they are able to suspend all their metabolic activity. Everything just stops. This extreme hibernation is as close to death as something alive can be. Nematodes go into this state when environmental conditions are extreme and unfavorable and will stay in in until conditions improve. This can make it challenging to fight damaging nematodes, but this ability is another source of interest to scientists, especially climate scientists. We all know we are in a time of extreme climate change, so there is hope that we can learn something about how to survive from the humble nematode. There are other creatures who have the ability to hibernate in this way, this short article gives some great examples.

An image of a grey nematode swimming along.
When you add some Beneficial Nematodes to your yard or garden, you are not just helping your plants. You are also taking climate action in some small way by putting nematodes to work doing their thing.

Take Care

Submitted by Pam



Friday, August 26, 2022

Genre-Bending Fruits and Vegetables



A selection of fruits and vegetables.
With most plants, the botanists have the last say in how to define them. With fruits and vegetables, however, the culinary world gets in the game. Botanically speaking, fruits are produced by a flower and contain seeds while vegetables are the other parts of the plant that are eaten (leaves, stems, roots, etc.). A culinarian, on the other hand, may classify them by flavor profile and when/how they are eaten. In other words, fruit is sweeter and is eaten in desserts and baked goods while vegetables are savory and are eaten as side dishes or as a part of a main dish. With both voices having their say in the matter, the whole thing is inevitably confusing for some people. When you add in plants that can be cooked in a number of ways, the confusion can mount. Let’s examine some of the most genre-bending plants out there:

    Avocado 

Cut and whole avocados sitting on a wooden table next to a jar of mashed avocado.
This ridiculously popular food is  botanically a fruit. What’s more it’s not a pome fruit or stone fruit as one might think, it’s a berry fruit. Be that as it may, avocados are considered savory and eaten like vegetables. They make an extraordinary addition to main courses, side dishes and salads (here are some savory ways to eat avocados that go beyond guacamole). But avocados are nothing if not versatile and although they not generally considered as dessert, they can go sweet with great success (like these recipes). You can probably get most people to agree that avocados are fruit, but the berry bit would make an excellent talking point the next time you serve avocado.

Leafy Greens

A variety of leafy greens sitting in a green colander.
This category of vegetables has flavors that can be polarizing. Kale, for instance, is a hard sell for many people (myself included). Nevertheless, greens are well-loved additions to salads, side dishes, sauces and entrees. But they can also be used in desserts. You could try the Slow Cooker Bok Choy Brownies, Vanilla Spinach Cake, or a traditional southern French dessert, Tourte des Blettes. This confection dates back to before the 16th century and contains a Swiss chard-based filling within a buttery crust. As far-fetched as it may seem to the American palate, a recipe that’s been popular for more than 500 years must have something going for it.

Okra

Whole okra sitting next to a glass bowl of cut okra.
Fried okra, gumbo, succotash - all of these are decidedly savory dishes. I know my Southern grandma would have a hard time believing it, but these “vegetable” dishes are actually made using a fruit. And while okra holds a place of honor in old-school Southern cooking, modern vegan and vegetarian chefs have gotten super-creative with ways to make old standards new. This is how we got Okra Ice Cream. I’m really not sure how I feel about this (and my grandma would be really skeptical of it), but it does have plenty of coconut and sugar, which is always a good thing. Another Southern standard that has been re-imagined as a no-meat dish is Pulled Pork. This recipe uses jackfruit and claims to be a good representation of pork. That said, this may be the one that sends Grandma spinning.

Tomato
A white plate holding sliced tomatoes with yellow and read tomatoes scattered around it on the table.

This is the poster child for the fruit or vegetable question. We’ve all heard the discussions surrounding this fruit; genre-switching is nothing new for tomatoes. In fact, back in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case to determine (for taxing purposes) whether the tomato was indeed a fruit or a vegetable. Their final decision was that it was a vegetable, which goes to show that the Supreme Court has been making controversial decisions for quite some time (read more about this case here).Tomatoes are firmly in control in some of America’s favorite foods and flavorings like spaghetti, salads, pizza and ketchup. But some brave cooks have turned them into dessert as well. There is the Tomato Cheesecake, which I’m not sure I want to try. There is also a Tomato Soup Cake, made with the ubiquitous canned tomato soup we’ve all had in our kitchen. I have to admit I‘m somewhat intrigued by this one – it seems like something that was created because there wasn’t much else in the pantry. And I can appreciate the creativity in that.

A spinning spiral of fruits and vegetables.

If you are dealing with a bumper crop of fruit and/or vegetables, I hope this blog has plucked the strings of culinary inspiration in you. Think outside the usual ways of cooking things and you may just find greatness.

Take Care.

Submitted by Pam


Friday, August 19, 2022

Wasps of the World Deserve Our Appreciation

Closeup of a wasp face
If it seems to you that lately every time you go outside there are more and more wasps around, then you are correct. In the latter part of summer and early fall, wasp populations are at their largest and all those wasps are out and about busily bulking up their queens and colonies. Wasps get a bad rap; they are amazing creatures that are crucial for a healthy ecosystem and not aggressive, people-hating bad guys. The more you know about them, the easier they are to like.   
   
                                                    Types of Wasps

Wasp on green plant stalk. Photo by Jose Frolian Diaz on Unsplash.
There are two main types of wasps: solitary and social. The solitary wasp species are the vast majority of 75,000 or so wasp species out there. Solitary wasps are mostly predatory and parasitic (we sell some as aphid predators). While their habits may be horrific to their arthropod and insect prey, they couldn’t care less about people. As their names suggest, solitary wasps live on their own and social wasps live in colonies. Wasp colonies are usually a great deal smaller than bee colonies. They will typically have only a dozen or so individuals, although some species can have hives with up to 10,000 inhabitants. Bees, on the other hand, routinely have colonies of 50,000 or more. So, mathematically speaking, you have a greater chance of coming into conflict with bees than wasp. For more information, check out this article.

To Sting or Not to Sting
The Velvet Ant - aka Cow Killer - Don't ever touch one of these!
Velvet Ant

The fear of getting stung is what seems to drive the irrational hatred for wasps. But, unless you have an allergy (which can be very serious), the pain of the sting should not be overwhelming for most adults. The exception would be certain solitary wasps, like the wingless Velvet Ant wasp, that may sting if provoked and can be VERY painful. Any wasp will sting if it feels threatened, but the majority of stings occur when people get too close to or disrupt the activity of the hive  Since solitary wasps do not live in hives, they have no reason to sting to protect one. On the other hand, like most animals, social wasps will aggressively defend their homes and offspring. They will fearlessly dive-bomb and sting intruders. So, just as you would do with a mama bear, back away and leave them alone.

                                   Wasp Nests

Wasps entering a wooden structure that most likely has a nest inside. Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash.
Wasp nests, and their proximity to humans, seems to be the flashpoint for confrontation between wasps and people. But the solution is not necessarily to seek out and destroy the hives. In most cases, it is probably better to leave them where they are. First, try to determine if there is in fact a hive nearby (not all are easily visible) – observe their comings and goings to see if they regularly fly to the same sheltered areas (unused equipment like barbecues, sheds, under the eaves) or crevices (cracks in foundations, wall cavities). Once you know where they are, you can plan where not to be. Bear in mind that wasps don’t swarm and that most nests will be abandoned once summer is over. If you are still uncomfortable with the nest being nearby, have it removed by a professional. While wasps don’t swarm, if you try to get at a nest you will be stung many times by many individuals. From more information on how to avoid confrontations with wasps, read this article.  
Biodiversity 

A Sand Wasp in mid-flight carrying prey back to its nest.
Sand Wasp with prey
The presence of a thriving wasp population helps keep the biodiversity therein robust. Wasps are at the top of the inveterate food chain and, as generalist predators, wasps will prey on all manner of spiders, millipedes, caterpillars and soft-bodied insects. Whether through parasitization or direct consumption, they keep pest populations of insects and arthropods in check. In this way they protect lower invertebrates and plants from indiscriminate predation that could cause an imbalance in the system which could lead to many serious consequences, including crop failure. 

Wasps as Pollinators

A closeup of a wasp covered in yellow pollen,
Those chubby little honeybees get all the pollinator love, but wasps do their part as well. While they do not gather pollen to take to their hive and turn into honey, they become covered in pollen as they search all parts of flowers and plants for prey. As they move on in their hunt, they take the pollen with them and spread it around. And then there are the specialist wasps like the Fig Wasps. These insects have developed a symbiotic relationship with the plants they visit. In tropical ecosystems, the fig is an essential food source for a great many species, and without this particular wasp that would be gone.
A long, skinny Fig wasp sitting on a green fig.
Fig Wasp

Wasps Could Cure Cancer 

Could it be that a lowly wasp is the key to wiping out the curse of cancer? Scientists are learning that a certain Brazilian wasp has venom that destroys cancer cells. It’s still early days on a possible cure, but this illustrates just how important wasps can be. 

A cartoon gif showing a little boy trying to knock down a wasp nest with a rake.

I hope that this has changed some thinking about the importance of wasps in the ecosystem. If you still want to control them around you, our Yellow Jackets, Hornets and Wasps page has more information and a variety of non-poisonous controls.

Take Care 

Submitted by Pam



Friday, July 29, 2022

The Drowned Lands: New York’s Black Dirt Region

Rows of bright green radish tops growing in the black dirt . Photo by Gigi Eustace.
In May I was lucky enough to spend some time on a farm in the Black Dirt Region in Orange County, New York. Only about 50 miles northwest of New York City in the lower Hudson Valley, this area is characterized by beautiful estates, orchards and vineyards, charming Colonial-era villages, picturesque farms and fields of deep black dirt. All of these can be found elsewhere, except for that dirt.

Before I go any further, I want you to imagine the softest and silkiest potting soil that you’ve ever seen. That is what New York’s black dirt is like – in fact, it’s more like powder than soil. This special soil was formed some 12,000 years ago after a glacier receded, leaving a bog in place of the ancient lakebed. After that, repeated flooding in the area augmented the development of the swamp-land and added to the soil profile. The deep layers of decayed plant matter in the bog created a soil rich in nutrients (notably sulfur) that is anywhere from 3 to 30 feet deep (some claim as much as 300 feet). This region of New York contains 26,000 acres of Black Dirt, making it the largest concentration of farmable soil of this sort in the US. The only other place you’ll find as much is deep in the Everglades and inaccessible to farming.
An Historical Marker for the Drowned Lands, can be found in Pine Island, NY.

The earliest settlers to the region dubbed this area the “Drowned Lands” due to the soggy nature of the soil. There were many attempts made to drain and manage the land, with various levels of success and resistance to the attempts (see here for more on that story). In the later part of the 1800s, Polish and Volga German immigrants began arriving in the area. Unlike many of their earlier counterparts, they recognized the soil as similar to the humus-rich soil in their homelands and knew just how to handle it. They proceeded to dig a network of drainage ditches that dried out the soil and created perfect fields of fertile farmland, with crowns of dry land popping up in here and there like islands (which is exactly what they’re called by locals). To this day, Pine Island, New York remains the epicenter of the Black Dirt Region.

A view of a drainage ditch with an "island" in the background.



The physical qualities of this soil are remarkable, but its nutrient-rich composition is the star of this show. Black Dirt is between 30-90 percent organic material (most soil is roughly 10 percent). According to Maire Ullrich, an Orange County agricultural extension agent, “It’s basically a giant bowl of compost”. The decayed plant material that creates this compost-like soil also provides a healthy dose of nitrogen and sulfur. This unique sulfur-richness is what makes it exceptional for growing the most famous crop of the Black Dirt Region - the onion.

Black Dirt Onions. Photo by Gigi Eustace.
Onions, onions, onions – the cultivation, tradition, and business of onions is always swirling around the Drowned Lands. The predominant onions of this area are the tennis ball-sized yellow onions with papery skin that we are all familiar with. The sulfur in the soil increases the sugar content in onions and gives it a delicious strong, rich onion taste that turns exceptional when caramelized. It’s also hard to beat in a soup (here's a local recipe to try). 

It's not just onions that grow well in black dirt, of course. All the root vegetables (beets, carrots, garlic, radishes) love to grow down into that rich soil. Lettuce of all types, kale, kohlrabi and cabbages all thrive as well. In the last 25 years or so, growing sod has become a reliable venture and, even more recently, hemp has proven itself in the area. As you can see, it might be challenging to find something that does not grow well in black dirt.

Pulling radishes from the field. Photo by Gigi Eustace.

A vivid purple kohlrabi. Photo by Gigi Eustace.
Plants are not the only things that farmers are pulling out of the black dirt. As a testament to what was once a robust prehistorical world in the lower Hudson Valley, there have been an abundance of fossils found. According to this article, there are actually three distinct geological layers in the area: the deepest level is clay, the middle level is a mix of peat and clay and the black dirt makes up the top layer. Peat bogs are famous for preserving artifacts; in some parts of the world, they may be “bog bodies”, but in this part of New York the peat/clay layer of the black dirt has been holding onto prehistoric fauna. Mastodon finds are arguably the most impressive; not just for their size (the largest animals that roamed the area) but due to their rarity. More mastodon remains have been found in New York State than any other place on Earth and more have been found in Orange County than any other part of the state (more on that here).
A mastodon on the move.
Mastodons are not the only ancient creatures coming to light, stag-moose, giant beavers, peccaries, reindeer and ground sloths have also been found. Many of these fossils are discovered as farmers do maintenance on their drainage ditches after the growing season, but they are under no obligation to turn them over to authorities so there very well may be other types of animal fossils out there that the public has not seen. 

The Black Dirt Region truly has something for everybody. If you are an American History buff, you can drink and eat in establishments that date to the American Revolution. If you are a flora and fauna type person, the countryside and mountains are simply gorgeous and filled with wildlife (I saw a big ole black bear lumbering along). If you enjoy a good adult beverage, there are many first-class vineyards, cideries and breweries to visit. If you are a foodie, the options are nearly limitless. And, of course, if you are a person who loves to grow things, the black dirt is a thing of beauty and wonder.
A storm over an onion field.

Hands fondling some black dirt.I want to thank Gigi and Farmer Bobby for their hospitality. It was a joy to see the endless enthusiasm they showed for their beautiful part of the world. Oh, and thanks Gigi for the great pictures!

Submitted by Pam 



Monday, July 18, 2022

What’s This Bug? The Solufigid/Camel Spider.

 What we have here is a solufigid (Arachnida solifugae). They are found in arid regions around the world and have many, many names: solifuges, solpugids, wind scorpions, wind spiders, sun spiders, false spiders, jerrymanders, madres de alacran and camel spiders (probably the most widely-known name here in our country). Some names are specific to certain regions. For instance, in South Africa, they are called roman spiders, red roman spiders, rooi spiders, kalahari ferraris, haarskeerders (Afrikaans for “hair cutter) or baarskeerder (“beard cutter); the latter two so-named for the local belief that they cut people’s hair in their sleep to use it for nesting material (Solufigids like hair that’s been shed from humans and animals, but the harvesting part is myth). And that’s not all of the South African names, see more here.

When the US military went into Iran and other parts of the desert Middle East, our troops came across these unusual-to-them creatures and, of course, told everyone back home about them. They adopted the prominent name from the area, camel spiders (For clarity, I’m going to use this name for the remainder of this blog). This awareness of camel spiders to Americans, spawned many urban myths. It just so happens that the misconceptions highlight some of the most unique aspects of this creature. It’s been said:

Some of the many species of solufigids

 -  that camel spiders are spiders from Hell.

Clearly these creatures are not literally from the underworld. In fact, they are not true spiders, although they come from the Arachnid genus. There are over 1,000 species of camel spiders, and none have the correct anatomy to qualify as spiders. They do have the eight legs (the two front “legs” are called palps and function more as feelers or hands for grasping prey), but little else a spider has. They don’t have venom or spinnerets. Additionally, spiders have separate heads and thoraxes, while camel spiders have a large one-piece head/thorax combination (which takes up 1/3 of its body).

- that camel spiders charge at people.

These are animals that avoid the sun and/or daylight exposure. In fact, the Solifugae name is derived from Latin and means “fleeing from the sun”. If caught out in the sun, they will rush into whatever shade they find and sometimes that is the shade a human is making. They’ve also been known to use a walking person’s shadow as moving shade, which makes it seem they are chasing that person. At night, they will rush towards any light they see, including flashlights and campfires. Seeing them approaching rapidly from the darkness would give anyone a fright.

- that camel spiders can grow to the size of a dinner plate.

A camel spider sitting on a hand.
Two soldiers holding what appears to be gigantic camel spiders, but the photo is deceiving.A widely-shared picture from Iraq shows soldiers holding two locked-together gigantic camel spiders. While this made for titillating conversation, the photo is a classic case of false perspective. Camel spiders in the Middle East don’t grow to more than 2“, and most are around 1”. If you consider that dinner plates are 10½-12” in diameter, it’s clear just how much their size has been exaggerated. 

- that camel spiders can jump up to 6 feet and run up to 25 mph.

A camel spider amongst the rocks.In reality, camel spiders are not good jumpers. However, their chief hunting behavior is to run at breakneck speed towards their prey. I mean run – while they can’t go 25 mph, they can do 10 mph. And they can keep up this speed indefinitely; there is no “slow” switch. Once night falls, they barrel out of their hiding places and start running. According to this man, they have a preferred route that they transverse over and over. While this article tells of researchers who tried to keep up with these speed demons and had to give up after a non-stop two-hour dash. As it zooms around, a camel spider will attack and devour any prey that is unfortunate enough to cross it’s path. They will literally run into something, rear up, slap/grab it with their palps and then begin chewing on it immediately. In no time, the camel spider will have shredded, liquified and consumed It and be off looking for something else. As horrifying as this running-attacking seems to be, camel spiders should be considered beneficial due to some of their food choices. Their diet is varied and includes many creatures that are deemed undesirable by humans, like venomous insects, spiders, scorpions and centipedes. Here's a video showing an attack on a millipede that shows just how fast they work (it is not sped-up, it’s in real time).

A camel spider reared up with its impressive jaws wide open.

- that camel spiders will screech as they attack.

They do not scream (again, an anatomy thing), but their powerful jaws can cut through feathers, bones and shells and that could create an ugly sound. And some species do clack their jaws as they attack. Or perhaps the noise in question is that of onlookers screaming in horror.

The face of a camel spider. - that camel spiders lay their eggs in animal’s fur (particularly camels) and eat camel bellies.

Camel spiders are not parasitic, nor are they blood-eaters, so they have no reason to seek out an animal host to lay their eggs on. They lay them in out-of-sight and underground places like burrow and under rocks or logs. As far as eating camels goes, these arachnids are fierce and have a varied diet, but it does not include large mammals (although a small mammal may become a meal if it runs into it).

A camel spider covering itself with sand.
Camel spiders have so many interesting behaviors, but my favorite is their ant-slaughtering. It appears that they like to accost ants at the opening to their colony and cut them to pieces as they come out to defend their home. The camels spiders are not eating the ants, they are simply killing them. And in a way that seems almost gleeful. Scientists have theories (scientists always have theories), but there is no real explanation for these attacks. Be that as it may, this behavior is inexplicably mesmerizing to watch. Here’s a video and here’s another. 

Submitted by Pam


Featured Post

That Dreaded Word – Blight

Rose Rust - Phragmidium mucronatum One of the most appalling words to a gardener is “blight”. When your garden becomes infected with blight...