African Cave Spiders, Anyone?
Whoa…it’s creepy, it’s crawly, it looks like a very large, squashed scorpion with some daddy-long-legs glued onto it! It’s actually an African Cave Spider, officially called a tailless whip scorpion (Damon variegatus), and it’s perfectly harmless. How novel… a creepy crawly at Zoonversity that doesn’t bite, pinch, or sting – our creep-phobic zookeepers are very grateful.
Unlike other arachnids, such as true spiders and scorpions, these guys have only six legs. Their other two legs have been modified into very long feelers — to help them feel their way around tree bark, under logs, and in the dark caves of Eastern Africa. These nocturnal arachnids eat super tiny insects, using their pincher-like pedipalps to push their bugs into their crushing jaws.
Even though they are harmless to humans, these creatures have been much maligned in modern media. For instance, in the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, they are described as "lethal" by Mad-eye Moody, who tortures the animal with a curse until Hermione begs him to stop. And, in the TV show Fear Factor, contestants were forced to eat these creatures, proving that humans are much more dangerous to the cave spider than they are to us.
A fellow wildlife educator was kind enough to share a surplus bunch of these big ol’ guys with us, so be sure to invite one of these stunning fellows to your next event. Let’s see if fear is a factor for you! And, we promise we won’t make you eat it.