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Thu 03 Dec 2009

Toilet seat spider hoax: Malaysian variant in circulation once again (Aug 2006)

Category : internet

This was first published on 6th September 2006 at a peak of the hoax emails's circulation. I just removed the "fictitious name" which the 2004 Malaysian variant of the hoax email was signed off with. It was the name, designation, address and phone number of a technician.

As it turns out, it was a NOT fictitious name, but that of an innocent person who had her name appended to the emails. This was probably added to improve the appearance of legitimacy, as she works in a lab. After one too many calls from friends, she finally wrote me yesterday to have it removed from the Habitanews post, at least!

---

In 1999, an email circulating through the internet reporting an incident in which three women in Chicago "turned up at hospitals over a 5 day period" with the same symptoms, eventually dying. The cause of their deaths were ultimately traced to a small spider under a toilet seat. The email proclaimed that it was 'determined to be the South American Blush Spider (Arachnius gluteus).'

This email was quickly debunked as a hoax and a paper was even published in the American Entommologist: Vetter, R. S. & P. K. Visscher, 2000. Oh, what a tangled web we weave: the anatomy of an internet spider hoax. American Entomologist, 46: 221-223 (see webpage).

As far as hoaxed go, this email did not try very hard to deceive, leaving many clues to suggest it was a joke, especially the name of the spider.

When the new variant of the 1999 hoax emerged in 2002, it tried much harder to be credible. This story was about three women still, but this time they hailed from North Florida. The spider at the centre of the mystery? The Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata) and the story involved a subject who travelled through Singapore!

By 2004, that variant introduced a link to an online version of Joseph Koh's "A Guide to Common Singapore Spiders" which is hosted on Habitatnews. One version, localised for Malaysia (i.e. the 'Malaysian variant') also carried the elaborate signature of a technologist from a Photonics Technology Laboratory from Malaysia (see below)!

Localised versions of an American urban legends are not new, e.g. see the Singapore-localised July 2000 version of The Knockout Perfume. This hoax is still alive in some circles, as a friend (ATSL) just told me that she received a Malaysian version of hoax in May 2006.

The Toilet Seat Spider hoax (and others) are documented in the Urban Legends and Folklore page:

In August 2006, the 2004 Malaysian variant appears to have been revived in Singapore, and I have received this three times from various circles up to today. All the emails included many others in their CC-list but unlike the first hoax in 1999 however, there is litle need to explain. There are enough people these days who know to check with Google, and the plethora of hoax-buster pages that cluster at the top of a typical search quickly identify the email as a hoax.

Still its about time I added some defense to the humble little page for the Two-Striped Telamonia and so it now bears a link to the Urban Legends and Folklore webpage.

Email hoax about the toilet spider, 2004 Malaysian variant,
revived circulation in Singapore, August 2006.

Apr 16 2004, 09:34 AM
"SERIOUS MATTER"

Three women in KL, 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 along Jalan Kuchai Lama 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 went 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 up 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 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 JB showed up at a hospita 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 the restaurant, 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.

(Name removed as requested on 3rd December 2009: it was a real person whose name was added to the email!)

A last word about these emails - read "Email facts of life."

Posted at 2:52AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news