Swarms of unknown spiders spread panic across Assam, India


Panicked villagers in a remote Indian state complained Monday of an invasion of giant venomous spiders that resemble tarantulas but are unknown to local specialists. Indian media said that a dozen people had been bitten and treated in hospital, with two unconfirmed deaths reported. Two people died in Tinsukia district after local healers used razor blades to drain the wounds. It’s not known if the victims died from spider poison or from the attempted treatment. Local magistrate Kishore Thakuria said the victims were cremated before autopsies could be done.

The hairy spiders were noticed about a month ago across Tinsukia district’s grassy plains and dense jungle forests north of the Brahmaputra river. Villagers in eastern Assam’s Sadiya area bordering Arunachal Pradesh claim to be under attack from swarms of poisonous nocturnal spiders. Barbora, Jiyagaon, Dikrong and a few other villages in the area reported spider attacks as well. At least 15 people have subsequently undergone treatment for swelling and pain at Sadiya Civil Hospital. Authorities have fogged and sprayed insecticides in the area, 600 kilometres (370 miles) east of Assam’s main city of Guwahati, and a team of scientists have been dispatched to investigate. Officials say the spiders are now also showing up south of the Brahmaputra.

According to L.R. Saikia, a scientist from the department of life science of Dibrugarh University in Assam, the spiders are akin to tarantula but they are still not sure what this particular species is. It appears to be an aggressive spider with its fangs more powerful than the normal variety of house spiders. Specimens have been sent outside Assam for identification by arachnologists. Officials cannot use anti-venom in treating bite victims until the species is identified. Zoologists said the description of the spiders fit the black or brown widow species belonging to the Latrodectus genus. In India, the wolf spider and the funnel-web spider are known to be venomous, besides the tarantula found in certain areas. If the spider is the black wishbone, which is found in Australia, how did it come all the way to Assam? Or, if it is the funnel-web spider, how did it suddenly appear at a place that is not its usual habitat? These questions have baffled experts.

According to  PC Bhattacharjee, former head of Gauhati University’s zoology department, the spiders terrorising Sadiya could be the Latrodectus elegans variety of brown spiders found in contiguous areas of Myanmar, China and Thailand. This spider has strong neurotoxic venom known to be fatal to children.

Usually, animals and insects behave differently if they are introduced to a different habitat; many show an aggressive strain, especially after they have mated with local species. The hybrid ones become stronger and more aggressive. One thing that is unexplained is how the black spider appeared in swarms. A certain anomaly in conditions may provoke an unusual surge in breeding populations. Swarms of spiders are rare, although they have been reported, usually after flooding when the spiders search for dry and higher ground according to British naturalist Dr Vejay K Singh, popularly known as Dr Venom. He has heard about the spider menace and says he would like to come down and check the spider himself.

Meanwhile, villagers are keeping lamps on at night and standing guard against spiders entering their mud-and-thatch huts. There are about 100,000 villagers, mostly poor rice farmers, living in the area cut off from roads by the river. While a strong rumour is doing the rounds across Assam, panic-stricken people have started killing spiders in large numbers out of fear. This itself is dangerous because spiders too have a major role to play in the bio-diversity.

Sources: Hindustan Times, Times of India

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  1. I think they need to have the scientists keep studing the unknown species of spider and try to capture one wearing protective gloves and protective gear and do tests on the unknown spider to figure out it’s species and origin and take it’s DNA and take a sample of it’s venom from the venom sack to create a anti-venom to administer if people get bite by the spider

  2. I found a black tarantula spider & i kill it . i found it inside my home which situated in digboi ( sree krishna t.e. ) Assam. Now what should i do that i could be safe ..

  3. I agree in a general sense, but there are some exceptional spiders that are remarkably aggressive. The sydney funnel-web is not only incredibly dangerous (without antivenin, death usually occurs from 15min-6hrs (3 hours was common, though some would die 1-2 days later, and some folk would eventually recover after 2 weeks if hospitalised + given breathing support – the 15 minute death was a small child, fastest adult death was a couple of hours), but will chase you across a room. I say that as an Australian – they’re common here, and due to their wandering nature you encounter them a fair bit.

    I’ve heard that the brown recluse spider can also be moderately aggressive (though unlike the funnel-web, it actually needs to be provoked), and some of the south-east Asian species of tarantula are aggressive.

    Though yes, in general it is incredibly rare for a spider to attack without extreme provocation. BUT India does have a sub-species of funnel-web, so it could be a related species, less poisonous than the Australian breeds, but with a similar aggressiveness.

    The other spider that has been mentioned in this context – the Australian black wishbone spider – is another one that will readily chase/attack, though again not as aggressively as the Sydney funnelweb. Whilst the black wishbone spider requires some provocation for an attack, the presence of large numbers of people, and loud noises (there was a festival on) would probably be sufficient, as it is a lot grumpier than most spiders.

  4. This is very unusual. Spiders are not normally aggressive and keep to themselves. It sounds like they were brought out of their territory and someone or something introduced them to the new environment and the spiders behavior is panic.

    Im thinking they came off a ship or from a shipping container from the ocean that was at some remote island that spiders breed on. Makes sense that way.

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