A Spider in the Toilet

We must be very careful, in this country, to separate fact from fiction, particularly when making decisions that may affect our lives and our livelihoods. For many reasons people may begin circulating false stories that are frightening and emotional, and are easy for us to believe because they are worded to cleverly as to seem possible.

In recent years there have been several important, far-reaching accusations that have been shown to have no basis in fact, and yet many laws and much regulatory activity, at a cost of billions of dollars to the American public, have been spent as a reaction to these falsehoods. Two that come to mind are a decades-long concept that high voltage electrical wires can cause brain tumors in people who work or live near them, and a recent revelation that a study that “proved” that man-made chemicals are Endocrine Disrupters was so flawed that even the researcher who did the study withdrew his own conclusions and apologized.

These two falsehoods are particularly damaging, since such a vast amount of money has been spent, needlessly, in attempted compliance with laws generated by the false premises. Other American Myths can be more humorous, as is the following story that hit the Internet in 1999. It was worded so cleverly that thousands of people took it as fact and altered their lives to accommodate their fear.

Here is the exact message:

WARNING: From Texas A&M International University

An article by Dr. Beverly Clark, in the Journal of the United Medical Association (JUMA), the mystery behind a recent spate of deaths has been solved. If you haven’t already heard about it in the news, here is what happened.

Three women in Chicago turned up at hospitals over a 5-day period, all with the same symptoms – fever, chills, and vomiting, followed by muscular collapse, paralysis, and finally death. There were no outward signs of trauma. Autopsy results showed toxicity in the blood.

These women did not know each other and seemed to have nothing in common. It was discovered, however, that they all had visited the same restaurant – Big Chappies at Blare Airport – within days of their deaths. The health department descended on the restaurant, shutting it down. The food, water, and air conditioning were all inspected and tested, to no avail.

The big break came when a waitress at the restaurant was rushed to the hospital with similar symptoms. She told doctors that she had been on vacation, and had only gone to the restaurant to pick up her check. She did not eat or drink while she was there, but she had used the restroom.

That is when one toxicologist, remembering an article he had read, drove out to the restaurant, went into the restroom and lifted the toilet seat. Under the seat, out of normal view, was a small spider. The spider was captured and brought back to the lab, where it was determined to be the South American Blush Spider – Arachnius gluteus – so named because of its reddened flesh color. This spider’s venom is extremely toxic, but can take several days to take effect. They live in cold, dark, damp climates, and toilet rims provide just the right atmosphere.

Several days later a lawyer from Los Angeles showed up at a hospital emergency room. Before his death he told the doctor that he had been away on business, and had taken a flight from New York, changing planes in Chicago before returning home. He did not visit Big Chappies while there. However, he did, as did all the other victims, have what was determined to be a puncture wound on his right buttock.

Investigators discovered that the flight he was on had originated in South America. The Civilian Aeronautics Board (CAB) ordered an immediate inspection of the toilets of all flights coming from South America, and discovered the Blush Spider’s nests on 4 different planes!

It is now believed that these spiders can be anywhere in the country, so please, before you use a public toilet, lift the seat to check for spiders. It can save your life!! And please pass this on to everyone you care about.

Officer Sylvia Steele
Texas A&M International University
5201 University Blvd.
Laredo, TX 78041-1999
956-326-2100

This report was written so cleverly, stating specifics and apparent facts, that many people believed it. Even doctors began to warn their patients about the threat of illness or death from this spider, and the fear obviously began to cause people to alter their lives.

Fortunately, though, it was completely false.

Here are some of the interesting facts about this story:

  • There is no such animal as the “South American Blush Spider”, and no such spider as Arachnius gluteus. In fact, this name translates to The Butt Spider, a clever name for describing the alleged area of assault.
  • “Blush Spider” is a cosmetology term referring to patches of tiny varicose veins on the surface of the skin.
  • There is no “Officer Sylvia Steele” at Texas A&M International University, and in fact there is no such university and the address listed is fictitious.
  • There is no such journal as the “Journal of the United States Medical Association”. In fact, there is no “United States Medical Association”.
  • “Beverly Clark” (remember “Dr.” Beverly Clark) is a line of wedding apparel.
  • There is no “Big Chappies Restaurant” at Blare Airport, and in fact there is no “Blare Airport”
  • There is no “Civilian Aeronautics Board” – the “Civil” Aeronautics Board was disbanded in 1984
  • None of the people alleged to have been killed by this spider actually existed.

As has been said about “great deals”, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably isn’t. Conversely, if it sounds too outlandish to be true then it probably is a lie.

Here are a couple more pest-related Myths that have hit the Internet Airways

1) A girl stopped at a fast-food Mexican restaurant and bought a Taco, ate it quickly, and began suffering illness that night, with pain and swelling in her jaw. Finally, after many tests, doctors discovered cockroach eggs incubating inside her saliva glands, having been placed there by the “pregnant” cockroach that had been in the taco.

Completely false. Cockroaches don’t lay a series of eggs, they produce a large egg capsule that could never have gotten into the salivary glands, and certainly could not have survived in anyone’s system. Someone simply had it in for this particular restaurant chain, and was causing them trouble with a widespread internet lie.

2) A stock clerk was cleaning up a storeroom in a Hawaii business and drank from a soda can in the process. A few days later he became seriously ill and died – specific symptoms were listed, and the “Centers for Disease Control” in Atlanta was quoted for advice they gave on the cause and the event. It was claimed that pathogens were present on the can, having landed there from dust infected by rat urine and droppings.

However, the event never happened, and the Centers for Disease Control never gave the warnings listed in the wild story. It is, of course, a good idea to wash off the tops of cans before you put your mouth on them, but not because of the story made up here.

Finally, it is a widespread belief among the medical community in California that hundreds of people each year need to be treated for “Violin Spider Bites”. Patients come to the doctor complaining of “spider bites” (even though they never actually saw a spider) or an open sore that the doctor immediately diagnoses as a bite from this spider. Treatment begins to control the spreading infection.

There even is one notorious incident where the major news media reported a female patient in Southern California entering a hospital, slipping into a coma that lasted 3 months, and while in the coma had parts of both legs, both arms, and her nose amputated by the doctors due to infections. The news media reported that the infections were caused by “Violin Spider Bites”, and people in California went into a panic. I spoke with homeowners 400 miles away from the alleged attack area, who were afraid to go into their homes for fear the spiders would be there.

As it turns out, in this case, doctors did NOT diagnose the infections as being a result of spider bites, but a reporter somehow heard someone say “it looks like a Violin Spider bite”, and the rumor grew a life of its own. The patient, it seems, already was on medication to control her severe problems with poor blood circulation.

The fact is, and it has been stated emphatically many times by the University of California Entomology Department experts, that the Violin Spider – also called the Brown Recluse Spider – is NOT a resident of California. It has been found a total of 4 times EVER in this state, in isolated incidents as a result of the spider hitch-hiking in some packaging or furniture from other areas of the United States where it is very common. Entomology and spider experts believe that the vast majority of such complaints of “open sores” appearing on people are the result of bacterial infections, and not spider bites.

But what about bed bugs, since this website is about bed bugs and their removal? Some insects are natural bed bug predators that eat bed bugs. These insects and spiders can be drawn to infestations or high populations of bed bugs in certain areas. They might help give away the bed bug’s location. If it is mishandled it may bite humans in defense.