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I Dream Africa

I Dream Africa

Spiders & Arachnids



Arachnids are a class of joint-legged invertebrate animals in the subphylum Chelicerata. All arachnids have eight legs, although in some species the front pair may convert to a sensory function. The term is derived from the Greek word ?ρ?χνη (aráchn?), meaning "spider".

Almost all extant arachnids are terrestrial. However, some inhabit freshwater environments and, with the exception of the pelagic zone, marine environments as well. They comprise over 100,000 named species, including spiders, scorpions, harvestmen, ticks, mites and Solifugae.

Almost all adult arachnids have eight legs, and arachnids may be easily distinguished from insects by this fact, since insects have six legs. However, arachnids also have two further pairs of appendages that have become adapted for feeding, defense, and sensory perception. The first pair, the chelicerae, serve in feeding and defense. The next pair of appendages, the pedipalps have been adapted for feeding, locomotion, and/or reproductive functions. In Solifugae, the palps are quite leg-like, so that these animals appear to have ten legs. The larvae of mites and Ricinulei have only six legs; the fourth pair appears when they moult into nymphs.
However, there are also adult mites with six, or even four legs.

Like all arthropods, arachnids have an exoskeleton, and they also have an internal structure of cartilage-like tissue called the endosternite, to which certain muscle groups are attached. The endosternite is even calcified in some Opiliones


Scorpions are characterised by a metasoma (tail) comprising six segments, the last containing the scorpion's anus and bearing the telson (the sting). The telson, in turn, consists of the vesicle, which holds a pair of venom glands and the hypodermic aculeus, the venom-injecting barb. The abdomen's front half, the mesosoma, is made up of six segments. The first segment contains the sexual organs as well as a pair of vestigial and modified appendages forming a structure called the genital operculum. The second segment bears a pair of featherlike sensory organs known as the pectines; the final four segments each contain a pair of book lungs. The mesosoma is armored with chitinous plates, known as tergites on the upper surface and sternites on the lower surface.

Scorpions are opportunistic predators of small arthropods and insects. They use their chela (pincers) to catch the prey initially. Depending on the toxicity of their venom and size of their claws, they will then either crush the prey or inject it with neurotoxic venom. The neurotoxins consist of a variety of small proteins as well as sodium and potassium cations, which serve to interfere with neurotransmission in the victim. Scorpions use their venom to kill or paralyze their prey so that it can be eaten; in general it is fast acting, allowing for effective prey capture.

Scorpion venoms are optimised for action upon other arthropods and therefore most scorpions are relatively harmless to humans; stings produce only local effects (such as pain, numbness or swelling). A few scorpion species, however, mostly in the family Buthidae, can be dangerous to humans. The scorpion that is responsible for the most human deaths is the Androctonus australis, or fat-tailed scorpion of North Africa. The toxicity of A. australis's venom is roughly half that of the deathstalker (Leiurus quinquestriatus), but since A. australis injects quite a bit more venom into its prey, it is the most deadly to humans. Human deaths normally occur in the young, elderly, or infirm; scorpions are generally unable to deliver enough venom to kill healthy adults. Some people, however may be allergic to the venom of some species, in which case the scorpion's sting can more likely kill. A primary symptom of a scorpion sting is numbing at the injection site, sometimes lasting for several days. It has been found that scorpions have two types of venom: a translucent, weaker venom designed to stun only, and an opaque, more potent venom designed to kill heavier threats.

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