There is no denying it, the big cats of Londolozi and the opportunities provided here to see them up close and personal are unparalleled. They are a major draw card for most guests, and rightly so because they offer excitement, interest and many thrilling moments. They are often the highlight of any drive. However, at Londolozi we also pay attention to some of the ‘smaller’ goings on of the wilderness. When you look around you, you can find fascinating creatures big and small everywhere and sometimes, you see something so unusual that it rivals even the best big cat experience.
A few mornings ago, we drove out of camp as the sun was rising and the Lowveld bush was lit up around us with a soft golden glow. One of my guests shouted for me to stop as she had spotted a large eight-legged arachnid. It was speeding across the road, so we hurriedly jumped out of the vehicle to get a close-up view of this unusual creature. On closer inspection, we identified it to be to a solifugid or what is more commonly known as a Red Roman. What was even more fascinating was that it had a millipede wrapped in its jaws. Recently there has been some serious warfare going on between the various coalitions of male lions on Londolozi but on that morning we found a battle of another kind. Despite the size of the creatures involved, it was just as fierce and amazing to watch.
The solifugid, although apparently physically similar to a spider, is not actually a true spider. This is because it lacks both venom glands and spinnerets. The solifugid is however, able to administer a painful bite to its victims, which is understandable when one considers that a third of its body is comprised of its head and jaws. These eight-legged invertebrates are often feared due to their appearance, but they are harmless to humans. It is also one of the fastest terrestrial invertebrates, moving across the substrate at huge speed, hence the nickname “Kalahari Ferrari”.
My guests and I were amazed at how quickly the solifugid was able to manoeuvre itself in order to try break through the hard, protective shell of the millipede and inflict painful bites. The video below appears to be a timelapse because the solifugid is moving so quickly but in fact this is the speed of the kill in real time.
A solifugid’s prey includes anything they can overpower, irrespective of its size. This includes insects, spiders, small reptiles, scorpions and millipedes. As seen in the video above they have finger-like jaws that are curved, pointed and serrated and they use these to effectively secure their prey. They then proceed to dispatch their prey with large, independently-movable chelicerae that shred the helpless victim until it is liquidised enough for them to ingest.
This battle we witnessed was one neither my guests nor myself had ever experienced before. We were all so intrigued with this small, unique arachnid and how it has adapted its ability to overpower its victims with speed. The millipede’s hard, protective shell was not enough to defend it against the blisteringly fast speed of the solifugid, as it attacked its soft underparts.
At the end of their stay, my guests unanimously voted that this sighting was one of their overall highlights because it was so rare and unexpected. It goes to show that there is so much to see and be enthralled by in this wild place, you just have to keep your eyes open to it…