Sunday, May 13, 2007

Camel spiders, warblers, and a return to my old location

Camel spiders (Solifugids) are probably the most infamous animal around here. I have been told that they become huge, pursue and jump on people and camels, eat the flesh of sleeping soldiers, and so on… In fact, we see them very rarely and I don’t know anyone who was ever harmed by one. Like scorpions, they are arachnids but not spiders. This brown camel spider is one of the two species that Ian, a friend from Juneau, caught on the border. It was badly wounded when it was caught, so I was able to hold it in my hand without being harmed (its legs span about the width of my hand and two thirds of its length), and photograph it without having it always try to run underneath my camera.

This small whitish camel spider is much less stereotypical. It is a fascinatingly tough and primitive little creature with the solifugids’ typical huge chelicerae. In this photo, it is tearing apart a poor scarab that we threw at it. Its behavior seems rather easy to predict:
If we throw it an insect, it will attack.
If we put it near shade, it will run to the shade.
If we place a rock next to it, it will burrow itself under the rock by digging sand out with its legs, and periodically turning around to push the sand out like with its jaws acting like the blade of a snowplow.

As for birds, I have been seeing many problematic warblers, including this Upcher’s warbler Hippolais languida that spent hours in the shade underneath our truck in Iraq. The Upcher's warbler was completely unafraid of humans, and I had to photograph it in macro mode as if it were an insect. Other difficult warblers were: bushels of Phylloscopus warblers that I don’t even try to identify anymore, and the gray warbler below. At first I thought it was a Hippolais warbler, then a white-eye, but a thorough review of the field guide suggests that it is in fact a young barred warbler Sylvia nisoria. Just when I thought there was at least one warbler I could easily identify…

As the mission changes, so do our assignments. The latest change within the battalion means that our little group of volunteer for task force Denali has to go back to the same camp which we were assigned to before. So my address will revert to what it was a month and a half ago, and I will be back to working on the border. I will really miss the mission even though it meant we had to spend days at a time out in the desert heat, eating MREs and drinking warm water, away from everything. The greatest treat was getting to sleep out in the desert, under the stars, in almost complete darkness, knowing that scorpions, foxes, camel spiders, huge lizards and other strange creatures were all around us.

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