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