Long before social media like Facebook & Twitter dominated spreading fake news and hoaxes, emails were the staple way to spread similar nonsense around the world and create panic among gullible. There was such an email hoax which warns of the Two-Striped Telamonia Spider, purportedly a poisonous species from India that hide under toilet seats and is responsible for the deaths of five people in North Florida.
Here is the Email Collected on Oct. 23, 2002
Subject: FW: Spider warning
WARNING: From the University of North Florida
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 North Florida, 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 had all visited the same restaurant (Olive Garden) 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 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 Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata), so named because of its reddened flesh colour. 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 Jacksonville showed up at a hospital emergency room. Before his death, he told the doctor, that he had been away on business, had taken a flight from Indonesia, changing planes in Singapore, before returning home. He did not visit (Olive Garden), while there. He did, as did all of 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 India. The Civilian Aeronautics Board (CAB) ordered an immediate inspection of the toilets of all flights from India, and discovered the Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata) 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.
Good grief! When we first encountered this hoax back in 1999, the forwarded message warned of a dubious pest called Arachnius gluteus — literally, “butt spider.” Written with satirical intent, the text contained so many clues to its own falsehood that most readers were able to instantly recognise it as a joke.
Later some anonymous person has rewritten the thing, adding some authentic-sounding details — for example, the name of an actual spider species, the Two-Striped Telamonia — while removing some of the tongue-in-cheek elements that originally tipped off readers that it was satire, effectively reviving an ancient (by Internet standards) hoax.
The facts are still the facts. You will find no “Dr Beverly Clark” in any database of real physicians, nor a “Journal of the United Medical Association” on any list of legitimate scientific publications. Nor has a spate of inexplicable deaths been reported in North Florida. There is a restaurant chain called Olive Garden with locations in North Florida, but no mysterious fatalities have occurred at any of those.
So this is the actual species of spider known as the Two-Striped Telamonia. It is a jumping spider native to parts of Asia, and quite harmless. This one is a female. I used Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro at 2X magnification. I used Canon MT-24EX macro twin light flash for illumination.
Females can reach a body length of 9–11 mm, males can reach a length of 8–9 mm. The female is light yellowish, with a white cephalus and red rings surrounding the narrow black rings around the eyes. Two longitudinal bright red stripes are present on the opisthosoma. The male is very dark, with white markings, and red hairs around the eyes. They appear in Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, India, and Bhutan. Telamonia is non-venomous and produces no toxin significant to humans.