There's a story currently making the rounds about an Australian man who, upon returning from a trip to Bali, discovered that a spider burrowed under his skin and traveled up to his chest. Freaky? Yes, but it's also not plausible.
Rest easy, arachnophobes. You do not have to worry about Charlotte weaving her web beneath your flesh. The supposed story goes like this: Dylan Thomas (a 21-year-old man, not the dead poet) was on vacation in Bali and woke up one morning to discover a red "trail" of irritation running from his navel to his chest, a trail that continued to grow longer throughout the day.
Thomas says that, after initially being sent home with antihistamines, he returned to the medical center where doctors discovered a tiny tropical spider beneath his skin. Supposedly, they removed the creature through an incision and placed it in a specimen jar. According to Thomas, his doctors speculated that it had entered his skin through an appendectomy scar and just kept moving up his body. Thomas told various news outlets that he believes the spider was there for three days.
It's the kind of story that has a lot of people saying, "NOPE," and a lot of arachnologists saying simply, "No, that didn't happen." Thomas may have been told that a spider invaded his flesh, but the arachnologists we spoke to about this story sincerely doubt that one actually did.
"I think this is extremely suspect, unusual, and likely not possible," Christopher Buddle, associate professor at McGill University's Department of Natural Resource Sciences, told us in an email. "Simply put: it is not plausible and I can think of no valid reason why a spider might 'crawl beneath skin through a scar'. The claim that it was 'feeding and moving up through the scar tissue' defies logic and defies what we know about the biology of spiders. I am also sceptical because the 'evidence' (the spider itself) is not presented."
Dr. Charles E. Griswold, Schlinger Curator of Arachnology (Emeritus) at the California Academy of Sciences, said he couldn't comment on this particular incident, but was similarly skeptical. "[I]n general this is impossible and there is no reason that a spider would do that," he wrote.
Could it be that doctors pulled something other than a spider from Thomas' body? Maybe, but we should wait to hear if more information comes out about the specimen. Buddle told us, "Other arthropods (e.g., ticks/mites/perhaps some insects) could 'possibly' be 'associated' with something like this… perhaps... But certainly not a spider."
Marie Herberstein, Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University in New South Wales, doesn't fully exclude the possibility that this could be a spider, though she writes, "I have never heard of any spider to crawl or exist under the skin or integument of any other creature (there are no parasites amongst spiders)." But she also suspects it may be a different animal. She told us, "My initial reaction is that this is a mite (also 8-legged) rather than a spider, and mites are renown[ed] for this type of behaviour, such as in scabies. Let's see what the identification brings."
Top photo: An actual spider from Bali, taken by Lip Kee. CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.