Bali Awry

A vacationing man discovered that increasing pain he was experiencing was due to a tropical spider's living under his skin?


Claim:   A vacationing man discovered that increasing pain he was experiencing was due to a tropical spider's living under his skin.


PROBABLY FALSE


Example:   [Collected via Twitter, October 2014]

Spider burrowed into WA man's abdomen and lived there for three days while he was on holiday in Bali. Ohhhh My Gawwd!
 

Origins:   On 15 October 2014, social media lit up with a seemingly implausible tale. An Australian man named Dylan Maxwell (Thomas) quickly became the subject of international buzz (via Facebook) after he asserted that during his vacation trip to Bali, a spider burrowed under his skin and had to be surgically removed. Maxwell's frightening arachnic story was picked up by news outlets in Australia, then Europe, and eventually in the U.S. Images sourced from Thomas' Facebook circulated as well via news outlets on Twitter and Facebook:


Although Maxwell's tale spread quite widely, nearly all the initial reports of it stemmed from the same source, an article published by the Australian news site NT News:
Bunbury local Dylan Thomas' first trip to Bali was complete with a visit to the Bali International Medical Centre to have a tropical spider pulled out of his stomach.

21-year-old Dylan awoke after a quiet night in his four and a half star hotel room to find a bizarre red trail two inches from his naval [sic] and heading upwards.

"It was as if someone had scratched me with the tip of a knife," he said.

Later that evening, the trail had moved two or three inches higher.

When a concerned Dylan fronted up to the doctors, they told him it was a small insect bite, and gave him some antihistamine cream to rub on the red line.

Later that morning he awoke to blisters.

“That's when it became painful, it was a searing burn,” he said.

He finally saw a dermatologist, who told him that it was something out of the ordinary.

Doctors extracted a tropical spider that had burrowed itself into the scar from Dylan's recent appendix removal.

The doctors put the spider in a container and took it away for testing.

Dylan will be informed next week as to what kind of spider made home in his body for three days.
Moreover, all the information contained in that article came from Maxwell himself, thus unleashing on the Internet that bane of fact-checkers: the single-source, self-reported, uncorroborated implausible story. And not only was that story reminiscent of several other familiar arachnid-based urban legends that have circulated for more than
a century, such as those about spiders living or laying eggs under human skin, but the reporting agency (Australian Northern Territory's NT News) is one akin to America's National Enquirer or Weekly World News: the online version of a tabloid that publishes silly, sensationalized articles such as "Obama Gets Croc Insurance," "Frog Gets Struck Down by Lightning," and "Best Man Left Bleeding After Being Hit in Eye by Flying Dildo." (The story has since been published by more staid news sources as well.)

We've found no documented cases of spiders living and burrowing under human skin, or even any information suggesting that such an occurrence is possible. Christopher Buddle, an associate professor at McGill University's Department of Natural Resource Sciences, addressed Thomas' claim in an e-mail, saying the story didn't match with what we know about spider behavior:
I think this is extremely suspect, unusual, and likely not possible. 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.
As noted, no corroborating information about this alleged medical case has been offered: no pictures of the skin-invading spider have been presented, no doctors involved in treating the patient have been quoted, and no witnesses to the spider removal other than Dylan Maxwell himself have been referenced.

Perhaps there's a germ of truth to this story that has been distorted through misdiagnosis or misunderstanding, but in the absence of any other evidence we remain extremely skeptical about the tale as presented.

Last updated:   16 October 2014



Sources:

    Davis, Lauren.
  "No, A Spider Did Not Burrow Under A Man's Skin and Live There for Days."
    i09.   16 October 2014  

    McDonald, Dani.
  "Bunbury Local Discovered a Spider Had Burrowed Under His Skin on Bali Holiday."
    NT News.   16 October 2014  

    Orr, Aleisha.   "Spider Burrowed Into Appendix Scar, Crawled Through WA Man's Body."
    The Age.   16 October 2014  

    Woodcock, Mitchell.   "Bunbury Man's Bali horror."
    South Western Times.   16 October 2014  

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