In which "poisonous spiders" are nothing of the kind...

There's a report doing the rounds that an Indian town has been overrun by "poisonous spiders". It's been reported all over.


Let's get something straight right out of the box. In this context, spiders are not poisonous. They are venomous. Big difference.

Secondly, I'm disinclined to believe the reports for a couple of slightly better reasons than outright grammatical hatred.

 Here are some quotes from the article

"similar to the tarantula, but it could be a whole new species."
"leaps at anything that comes close," 
"latched onto them after biting."

 If it's "similar to the tarantula" - which isn't a species of spider at all but a general and colloquial grouping of large spiders - then it's a mygalomorph. A large, relatively primitive spider with a simple respiratory system and downward-pointing fangs with a pickaxe-like action.

Tarantula-like spiders cannot leap at anything. They lack the energetic throughput relative to their bodyweight. This is due in part to their lung configuration, but also to their general morphology. They're not built for jumping.

They also can't "latch on" to anything, because their fangs are simple stabbing fangs, not the grabbing fangs you'd see in araneomorph spiders.

The spider, if indeed it exists, could well be a fast, open-ranging hunter like the familiar Australian Huntsman spider, which the ignorant are oft wont to call "like a tarantula", but to have fast-acting and extremely deadly venom in such spiders, and for them to be completely unfamiliar to the local population, is a tad implausible. It could be that the spiders are a simple scapegoat for other causes of death. People die. It happens. Sadiya, a local center in the Himalayan Foothills, has a population of about 92,000. It's not a small village in which two ill-explained deaths might be proportionately unusual. One of the reported deaths is an "unidentified schoolboy". I'm not impressed with the journalism, let's say. 

Look, I'm disinclined to think that this report is even well-researched, never mind that it's possibly true. And I note also with interest that the most accurate picture in the story I linked to is a Sydney Funnelweb Spider. You'd think someone in or near Sadiya might have a camera, huh? Or a more accurate description of the spider? According to this report, experts have visited the area and drawn a blank.


The other thing that makes me raise an eyebrow? This all emerged during a religious festival. Religious festivals are times of "signs and wonders" in pretty much every culture. Miracles are reported, strange happenings manifest. Hysteria spreads easily. In the hindu faith, which has elements of animism and avatarism, it's utterly unsurprising that strange creatures might be reported. Call me a cynic if you will, but I almost expect stories like this out of times of religious fervour. It wouldn't surprise me to see something similar reported on Danny Nalliah's Catch The Fire Ministries blog as having happened in Footscray.

And as the last-linked article mentions, almost as a footnote:

He [Dr Anil Photwali] also pointed out other factors may have contributed to the two reported fatalities.

"All the bite patients first went to witch doctors, who cut open their wounds with razors, drained out blood and burnt it. That could have also made them sick," Phatowali said.

I'll lay odds that this is a hysterical reaction to a couple of unexplained deaths, during a period of religious frootloopery that (possibly) happened to coincide with some 'unusual' spiders being seen around the place. If it's not. I'll eat my fucking hat.


posted @ Monday, June 4, 2012 3:11 PM

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