Freak of the Week #27: Spider Burrowing in Man’s Skin!?


You may have heard by now that Australian man Dylan Maxwell had a spider removed from his skin after it crawled into his appendix scar, leaving a blistering trail up his abdomen over the course of three days while he was on holiday in Bali. The doctors initially told him it was a “bug bite”, and sent him away with antihistamines. He returned a couple days later and they removed a dead spider from the scar.

But rest easy, folks! This story probably isn’t accurate. Our first clue is that the story was originally published by NT News, an online tabloid newspaper–the equivalent of the U.S.’s National Enquirer.

The blistering scar, taken from Dylan’s Facebook page

So far, the only details regarding the incident have been submitted by Dylan himself, and have not been corroborated by outside sources–such as the doctors in Bali who examined him.

The alleged spider was taken away for “testing”, and his original Facebook post says he was not able to take a picture as it was extracted because he didn’t have his phone, so we have no documentation that it happened.

The stories all wrap up with “We’ll know what it was by next week”; but by “next week” we’ll be chattering about something else, like how different Renee Zellweger looks now, and will have forgotten all about Dylan’s incident.

This has all the earmarks of your garden-variety internet hoax.

It also helps to know a little bit about spider biology. Burrowing through flesh is not something that any known species of spider has the equipment or inclination for. Their mouth parts are evolved for piercing, not gouging. They are generally pretty soft-bodied, and their legs work by hydraulic pressure rather than muscle contraction. A spider of the size to make the kind of track on Dylan’s abdomen would not have legs with enough tensile strength to propel the spider forward through dense, irritated flesh.

He also reports that the spider burrowed into his appendix scar, but the scar would have to be pretty fresh to be a legitimate entrance into the skin. Given the other material he’s posted on his public Facebook page, you’d think going in for major surgery would have at least garnered a mention. I can find no evidence that he had his appendix removed within the 2-3 weeks before his Bali trip.

Although it is possible Dylan was invaded by some type of arachnid, this behavior is more expected from a mite or a tick, which have more robust exoskeletons and mouth parts that are more suited to chewing. Medical doctors are not necessarily known for their arthropod identification skills, but one might expect Balinese doctors to have a broader knowledge base. Although English is widely spoken in Bali, there may have been a language barrier as well.

This story has been picked up and circulated by several reputable and fact-checked news sources, shared on social media thousands of times, and is likely terrorizing a number of people’s dreams, but i’ll say it again: Relax, folks! Spiders. Don’t. Burrow. Into. Humans.

The ID of the critter allegedly removed from Dylan’s scar has not yet been reported. But this looks an awful lot like something else to me…

Screen cap from NT News interview, showing the healing scar

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not something we need to worry about here in Ohio. What does this look like to YOU? Let us know in the comments!

 

Posted October 23, 2014
Topics: Natural History
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