- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Just a hoax. A fear-mongering hoax.
A so-called Facebook "public service announcement" on Aug. 21 that warned of a “new deadly spider species” spreading across the United States went viral, but it was all fake news. The images that the South Carolina man posted are of a woodlouse spider, Dysderca crocata, and it's neither new nor deadly to humans.
Unfortunately, many gullible people--probably many who cringe at the very sight of a spider!--believed the hoax. And even more unfortunately, the post went viral.
The South Carolina resident posted the "public service announcement" in all caps:
“THE SPIDER FROM HELL. FIVE PEOPLE HAVE DIED THIS WEEK DUE TO THE BITE OF THIS DEADLY SPIDER .THIS SPIDER WAS FIRST SEEN IN SOUTH CAROLINA IN JULY SINCE THEN IT HAS CAUSED DEATHS IN WEST VIRGINIA ,TENNESSEE AND MISSISSIPPI. ONE BITE FROM THIS SPIDER IS DEADLY. US GOVERNMENT WORKING ON AN ANTI VENOM AT THIS TIME PLEASE MAKE YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS AWARE.”
“This beast, Dysderca crocata, has been in most of North America for decades,” Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, told us. “That includes California. It occurs mostly around buildings, especially if there is a mulched garden where its primary prey, isopods (rolypolies, pillbugs), live. I've had it at my place for years, but the number of pillbugs went way down during the drought and I haven't seen the spider lately."
“Needless to say, its bite is not lethal," Shapiro pointed out. "It has very large chelicerae and displays them menacingly if annoyed. According to the literature, bites (really rare) cause brief pain and occasionally local dermatitis, nothing more.”
Snopes.com, the fact-checking site, declared it a hoax on Aug. 21, a day later, but not before the damage was done. Today the Entomological Society of America (ESA) tweeted “FACT CHECK: Did a 'New Deadly Spider' Species Kill Several People in the U.S. in the Summer of 2018?” ESA answered the question succinctly: “Spoiler alert: No, it did not.”
No. It. Did. Not.
Snopes wrote: “Invasive and exotic animals have long been common subjects of scarelore, and messages alerting readers to the supposed threat posed by some new or previously unheard-of species often spread like wildfire across message boards, social networks and email inboxes. These posts typically take the form of a 'public service announcement' and are shared in good faith, and without hesitation, by people who sincerely wish to alert their friends and loved ones to an unfamiliar threat. For these reasons, the 'dangerous animal alert' is also a frequent source of misinformation, deliberate scare-mongering, or even downright trolling.”
It's a good idea to question these kinds of Facebook posts (note: where are you, Facebook monitors?)
Wikipedia informs us that "The woodlouse spider, Dysdera crocata, is a species of spider that preys primarily upon woodlice. Other common names refer to variations on the common name of its prey, including woodlouse hunter, sowbug hunter, sowbug killer, pillbug hunter and slater spider."
"Female specimens are 11–15 mm (0.43–0.59 in) long, while males are 9–10 mm (0.35–0.39 in).They have six eyes, a dark-red cephalothorax and legs, and a shiny (sometimes very shiny) yellow-brown abdomen. Notably, they have disproportionately large chelicerae for a spider of this size."
Native to the Mediterranean area, the woodlouse spider is found throughout much of the world, including North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It's found "under logs, rocks, bricks, and in leaf litter in warm places, often close to woodlice," Wikipedia relates. "They have also been found in houses. They spend the day in a silken retreat made to enclose crevices in, generally, partially decayed wood, but sometimes construct tent-like structures in indents of various large rocks. Woodlouse spiders hunt at night and do not spin webs."
There. You. Have. It.
"Too weird," commented Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, who fields lots of questions about insects and arachnids. "Funny that they picked this spider. Its ferocious looking but tiny and probably couldn't bite you even if it wanted to."
Sadly, Arachnophobia, or the extreme or rational fear of spiders, is very real--unlike the disturbing hoaxes that keep popping up on the Internet.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
That sign, “I am NOT afraid of spiders,” greeted Louisa Lo, executive administrative assistant for Bruce Hammock, distinguished professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, when she arrived to work a week ago at her office on the "garden level" of Briggs Hall.
Her recently retired colleague and good friend, Shirley Gee, principal investigator, lecturer, mentor and the longtime manager of the Hammock research lab, saw the sign in a local store and purchased it for her.
Halloween is gone, but the sign isn't, and the spiders may not be.
And, yes, despite the sign, she says she's still a “little” afraid of spiders. A touch of arachnophobia.
And why does she not like spiders? “Spiders are creepy!” she said, smiling. “Actually it's not only spiders I don't like, but almost all kind of bugs, especially those with multiple legs! THEY CRAWL ALL OVER THE PLACE! And ironically, I am working in the Entomology Department!”
She works for Bruce Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Highly recognized by his peers for his research, inventions, teaching and mentoring, Hammock is a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Inventors. which honors academic invention and encourages translations of inventions to benefit society. His many programs keep her busy.
Louisa is known as a treasure in the office--multi-skilled, personable and always helpful. "Louisa never failed to ask if she could help me," Gee recalled. "I'm going to miss her as a colleague, but mostly as a friend!"
Said Hammock: "Louisa brightened the office since the day she arrived. She somehow accomplishes the hard work of keeping the lab running under an appearance of always being ready to help. She makes new people feel welcome and lets alumni know they are missed. She even reminds me what day it is and when it is time to go home."
Lo considers this her dream job. “I love meeting and working with people with different backgrounds!” The Hammock lab draws scientists from all over the world. The 29-member international Hammock lab currently includes 1 undergraduate student, 1 graduate student, 7 postdoctorates, 7 research scientists, 8 visiting scholars and 3 staff. They represent 13 countries, including the United States, Turkey, Germany, China, France, India, Japan, Ukraine, Korea, Hong Kong, Canada, Brazil and Sweden.
Lo, who joined the Hammock lab on Aug. 17, 2011, will soon be moving to Michigan where her husband, Kin Sing Stephen Lee, a postdoc in the Hammock lab, has accepted a junior faculty position in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Michigan State University.
Is Lee afraid of spiders? "He better not be afraid of spiders," she said. "He is the one relocating them for me if any are in our house!"
Lo's last day is Dec. 16 at UC Davis. She already has a position awaiting her. “It will be a very similar position as what I am doing right now except it is in a department setting (Department of Family Medicine at Michigan State University) rather than working for a single unit,” Lo said. “I will be responsible of managing accounts, helping with grant proposals and providing administrative support to the department. “
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Louisa came to the United States in 2002 to attend college. She received a degree in advertising “so my first job was a copywriter in an advertising firm in Hong Kong. Then I moved back to United States when my husband was finishing up grad school.”
Then the couple moved to Davis in 2010. Louisa worked as a warehouse associate and an office manager in a clinic before accepting her current position with the Hammock lab.
She and her husband are enjoying life with their toddler son, Skyler, who is just learning to walk, run and ride a tricycle.
Odds are Skyler won't be wearing a Spiderman outfit any time soon.