E-mail hoax: Scary ‘deadly spider in the loo’ tale isn’t true

2008-10-24 00:00

Three women and an American lawyer “died” after becoming entangled in the World Wide Web.

According to a hoax e-mail currently doing the rounds, the victims were bitten by spiders hiding in public toilets.

The local version of the e-mail, which arrives under the banner of the South African Medical Association with the headline “Really terrifying”, warns that three women succumbed to the same symptoms — fever, chills, vomiting, muscular collapse and paralysis — after visiting the Olive Garden, a restaurant in the Western Cape.

The cause of death was a mystery until a savvy toxicologist took to inspecting loos and fished out a Two-Striped Telamonia, a venomous spider whose toxin takes a few days to take effect.

According to the e-mail, these spiders live in damp climates and toilet rims are a particular favourite.

The fourth victim, a lawyer from Jackson in the U.S., had “a puncture wound on his right buttock”. His fate was apparently sealed in an airline toilet on a flight from India.

According to www.snopes.com, which seeks to debunk urban myths and hoaxes, the spider legend originated in Chicago in 1999, but was rejuvenated in 2002 when the spiders relocated to Florida and again in 2003 when they headed for Pennsylvania. Mid-way, the origin of the aeroplanes colonised by the spiders changed from South America to India and the fictitious South American Blush Spider (Arachinius gluteus) became the Telamonia dimidiata, a real but harmless arachnid from India.

According to Snopes, the author of the original spider hoax eventually owned up.

He filled the message with obvious inaccuracies so that the slightest check would reveal it was a hoax and sent it out to show how gullible people are and how they carelessly tend to forward messages without checking.

Overall, the still anonymous author wanted to illustrate the power of the Internet when spreading information.

The website’s final conclusion is that although some spiders prefer dark cool places and can sometimes be found under toilets seats (mostly outdoors), an airline toilet is “a particularly inhospitable abode for a spider” thanks to the chemicals used.

“Of all the precautions you might want to take while travelling by air, checking under the toilet rim for spiders should be given a very low priority,” it advises.

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