Freak of the Week #26: Spider Burrowing in Man’s Skin!?

You may have heard by now that Australian man Dylan Maxwell had a spider removed from his skin after it crawled into his appendix scar, leaving a blistering trail up his abdomen over the course of three days while he was on holiday in Bali. The doctors initially told him it was a “bug bite”, and sent him away with antihistamines. He returned a couple days later and they removed a dead spider from the scar.

But rest easy, folks! This story probably isn’t accurate.

Our first clue is that the story was originally published by NT News, a online tabloid newspaper–the equivalent of the U.S.’s National Enquirer.

dylan1

The blistering scar, taken from Dylan’s Facebook page

So far, the only details regarding the incident have been submitted by Dylan himself, and have not been corroborated by outside sources–such as the doctors in Bali who examined him.

The alleged spider was taken away for “testing”, and his original Facebook post says he was not able to take a picture as it was extracted because he didn’t have his phone, so we have no documentation that it happened.

The stories all wrap up with “We’ll know what it was by next week”; but by “next week” we’ll be chattering about something else, like how different Renee Zellweger looks now, and will have forgotten all about Dylan’s incident.

This has all the earmarks of your garden-variety internet hoax.

 

It also helps to know a little bit about spider biology. Burrowing through flesh is not something that any known species of spider has the equipment or inclination for. Their mouth parts are evolved for piercing, not gouging. They are generally pretty soft-bodied, and their legs work by hydraulic pressure rather than muscle contraction. A spider of the size to make the kind of track on Dylan’s abdomen would not have legs with enough tensile strength to propel the spider forward through dense, irritated flesh.

He also reports that the spider burrowed into his appendix scar, but the scar would have to be pretty fresh to be a legitimate entrance into the skin. Given the other material he’s posted on his public Facebook page, you’d think going in for major surgery would have at least garnered a mention. I can find no evidence that he had his appendix removed within the 2-3 weeks before his Bali trip.

Although it is possible Dylan was invaded by some type of arachnid, this behavior is more expected from a mite or a tick, which have more robust exoskeletons and mouth parts that are more suited to chewing. Medical doctors are not necessarily known for their arthropod identification skills, but one might expect Balinese doctors to have a broader knowledge base. Although English is widely spoken in Bali, there may have been a language barrier as well.

This story has been picked up and circulated by several reputable and fact-checked news sources, shared on social media thousands of times, and is likely terrorizing a number of people’s dreams, but i’ll say it again: Relax, folks! Spiders. Don’t. Burrow. Into. Humans.

The ID of the critter allegedly removed from Dylan’s scar has not yet been reported. But this looks an awful lot like something else to me…

DylanCapture

Screen cap from NT News interview, showing the healing scar

 

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not something we need to worry about here in Ohio.

What does this look like to YOU? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

Columbus Audubon 5k on Nov 8!

Looking for a way to stay in shape and promote environmental awareness and conservation at the same time?

Consider Columbus Audubon’s inaugural Take Flight 5K, happening Saturday, November 8th at 9AM. Join fellow outdoors enthusiasts on a paved nature trail beginning and ending at the Scioto Audubon Metro Park and Grange Insurance Audubon Center. Not into running? No problem! You can also register as a walker to enjoy the trail at a more leisurely pace–on your own, or with a buddy or two!

If you’re not sure what to do with the kids, bring them along! They can build a birdhouse at the Grange Audubon Center while you walk or run.

Register for the Take Flight 5K here, but be sure to sign up by October 25! Registration fees are $25 for runners and $20 for walkers. Each participant receives a long sleeved t-shirt and other goodies, and the race is timed for serious runners. All proceeds from the event directly support Columbus Audubon.

Comments on Freak of the Week #25; and new FoW #26

Sandstone slab from Tarlton Cross.

Sandstone slab from Tarlton Cross.

Well, the consensus on this sandstone slab that was found near Tarlton Cross is that it’s a naturally weathered stone. The photos were also posted on the OHC Archaeology blog and sent to several geologists, and everyone seems to agree that the stone was not altered by humans. One of the best comments was from a local archaeologist who lives in the Tarlton Cross area and said he’s been all over the site and this is “just a common old rock”. When in doubt, ask someone who is the most familiar with the area! We’ll keep this “case” open and are always willing to hear other opinions, but so far it seems to be a natural occurrence. Thanks to everyone who examined the stone and gave their comments.

Now for a change of pace! Here’s Freak of the Week # 26, submitted by Bob Glotzhober, Curator Emeritus of Natural History:
Are these Styrofoam Christmas decorations, just drying and waiting to be painted? What are they? Give us your thoughts – and later we’ll provide the answer.

Freak of the Week #26

Freak of the Week #26

Today is National Fossil Day!

Today is the fifth annual National Fossil Day, hosted by the National Park Service and the American Geosciences Institute. In trying to decide what to post today to honor this occasion, I thought we could post a series of photos of fossils from our collection or maybe discuss why fossils are important in helping us understand the past, etc. But then I ran across a letter written by the President of the United States when introducing the first National Fossil Day in 2010. I guess I’ll let him tell you about the significance of this occasion. Click here to read the letter.

OK, I guess a photo or two is called for as well!

A phalanx (toe bone) from  the McGill Mastodon, excavated by OHC in 1978. Champaign Co., Ohio.

A phalanx (toe bone) from the McGill Mastodon, excavated by OHC in 1978. Champaign Co., Ohio.

A fossil fern, Pecopteris sp., from the Pennsylvanian Period, Doanville, Ohio.

A fossil fern, Pecopteris sp., from the Pennsylvanian Period, Doanville, Ohio.

An Afternoon with John Ruthven

Cedar Bog Nature Preserve will host “An Afternoon with John Ruthven” on November 1, 2014, from 1- 3 p.m.  In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon in captivity, this renowned wildlife artist will discuss the inspiration for one of his latest works, “Martha – the Last Passenger Pigeon”.  Bob Glotzhober, Natural History Curator Emeritus for the Ohio History Connection, will also share the ongoing struggle for survival of Cedar Bog, home to many endangered and threatened species of flora and fauna. Reservations are required.

Ruthven_flyer_revised

We need your help! What is this? Freak of the Week #25

Is it natural or not!?

Is it natural or not!?

For this week’s Freak of the Week we need your assistance in helping to identify an object! It’s a rectangular piece of sandstone that was found in a stream near the Tarlton Cross Mound site in southwestern Fairfield Co. Another large stone found near this one we recognized as a natural piece of the sandstone bedrock, however we aren’t as certain about this one. The edges seem to be natural; there are no tool marks, etc. to indicate that it was intentionally cut to be this shape. However the flat surface shows an unusual pattern and is less definitive. Can this be due to normal weathering? Would the iron present in the sandstone be more resistant during weathering and create this pattern of “grooves” around the perimeter of the stone? Or could this pattern be due to quarrying of the stone or maybe it’s use in historic construction? However there are no known quarrying operations, historic foundations, or cemeteries near this site.

Oblique view of stone, showing pattern.

Oblique view of stone, showing pattern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natural weathering creates an infinite number of patterns and shapes in rocks, thus we don’t want to anoint this piece as a human-created unless we have definitive evidence. We’ve also sent these photos to geologists who are familiar with sandstone and to archaeologists for their opinions. What do you think? Ever seen something like this!?

Tarlton Cross Mound

Tarlton Cross Mound

 

By the way, if you’re looking for great places to visit this fall to enjoy the outdoors and beautiful fall leaves, Tarlton Cross Mound and Wahkeena Nature Preserve are both located south of Lancaster in Fairfield County. They are close to Columbus and would make a great day trip!

Tiny denizens of the Bird Sanctuary

Dave and I performed our usual weekly check on the pond in OHC’s Bird Sanctuary a few days before the equinox and found a few interesting insects still hanging around and making the most of the last warm days of summer. Here’s a sampling of the highlights!

MilkweedBugsThese Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) suck the juices out of milkweed plants with their piercing mouth parts. Both full-grown adults and younger nymph instars are pictured here. They are migratory in the northern reaches of their range, so these critters have likely headed south for warmer weather by now.

 

LeafhopperThe tiny Candy-striped Leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea) is easy to overlook, but is surprisingly common and occurs in a wide variety of habitats. Even this late in the season you might still be able to find one in your own back yard! When disturbed they rocket away on their powerful hind legs, hence the name “leafhopper”.

 

AilanthusSmall but stunning Ailanthus Webworm Moths (Atteva aurea) can be found resting on vegetation during the day, like this one, but they are also drawn to porch lights at night. The drab grey larvae feed on the non-native ornamental Tree of Heaven.

 

CricketI stumbled upon this Red-headed Bush Cricket (Phyllopalpus pulchellus) while pulling out some excess Common Bindweed from our milkweed patch. She was waving those paddle-shaped pedipalps like little boxing gloves as she explored the leaf surface. The male of this species produces a stuttering, high-pitched trill that is surprisingly loud for its size (1.5cm).

 

WaspI believe this smallish wasp is a Blue Mud Dauber (Chalybion californicum). She seemed particularly interested in the rocks around the pond where we’d splashed them with the hose. She was very fast-moving (and difficult to photograph!) but totally uninterested in us. Blue Mud Daubers are solitary, and modify the abandoned nests of other wasps rather than constructing their own. Their preferred prey are spiders, particularly cobweb weavers like the Black Widow!

 

MonarchCat

A very welcome surprise in our milkweed patch, this Monarch caterpillar is close to pupating. This was the only larva I was able to find. I hope he/she was able to pupate before the weather turned a couple days later!

The next time you’re at the Ohio History Center, stop by our Bird Sanctuary’s viewing area in the Archaeology exhibit. Although fall is upon us, many other wildlife species will continue to frequent the pond for several weeks to come. You never know what you might see landing on our bird feeders!

It’s a femoral head…of a mastodon! Answer to FoW #24

Femoral head of a mastodon.

Femoral head of a mastodon.

This Freak of the Week was pretty tough, but congrats to Clint who recognized it was from a mastodon and to Becky who knew it was the head of a femur! Put those two comments together and you’ve got the right answer: the femoral head of a mastodon! This one was hard because I didn’t include a scale so that you could get an idea of the size of the specimen, which I was afraid might give it away. The actual size is 8″ in diameter.

Lateral view of the femoral head.

Lateral view of the femoral head.

The head of the femur, which fits neatly into the socket (acetabulum) of the pelvis, is one of the few almost perfectly round skeletal structures in the body. When you see the lateral view of the femoral head (photo), you see that it’s more of a rounded cap that fits over the neck of the femur. And yes, humans have a rounded femoral head too! Check out this old engraving from Gray’s Anatomy.

Head of the femur of a human.

Head of the femur of a human.

Underside of the femoral head.

Underside of the femoral head.

The head of the femur is just one of many skeletal epiphyses in the body. An epiphysis is a separate ossification center which is present at one or both ends of some bones, and is where growth in length of a bone takes place. If you look at the bottom of this femoral head (photo), you can see that the surface has a roughened texture. This is where the epiphyseal disk is found, a layer of cartilage between the epipiysis and bone shaft, and this is where growth occurs. Once full adult skeletal growth is completed, the epiphyses will fuse to the main shaft of the bone and you’ll have one complete bone. Since this mastodon femoral head is unfused, we can infer that the animal was a sub-adult. It’s still one big mastodon; it’s adult size but not yet skeletally mature.

Speaking of femoral heads, at the last museum that I was with we had a large colony of flesh-eating beetles, called dermestid beetles, that we used to clean flesh off of skeletal specimens (more about that in upcoming blogs!). One of the graduate students that I worked with had unfortunately developed a severe case of arthritis, very unusual for someone as young as her. As part of the disease, the protective cartilage on one of her femoral heads had worn away and was causing her great pain, thus the head of her femur had to be surgically removed. After the surgery she hobbled on her crutches into the museum one day and said to me, “Dave, if I can get the femoral head from the surgery, would you put it into the dermestid colony and clean it up for me!?” I had used the colony several times to clean human bones from forensic cases brought in by the State Crime Lab, so I knew the beetles would clean human tissue. So I said “Sure, if you can get the specimen from your doctors go ahead and bring it in.” She then proceeded to reach into her backpack and pull out a small jar containing, you guessed it, her femoral head! I was surprised at first, but having worked with forensic science grad students for so long I really wasn’t too shocked!

The Spider and the Snake

By Bob Glotzhober, Curator Emeritus, Natural History

Last week I posted a blog about finding five baby Timber Rattlesnakes inside a rotting stump in Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio back on September 9, 2014. I made very brief mention in that blog about an interesting wasp, with interesting behavior, that was using the very same stump! Here follows what information I have from field observations and from various searches.

WaspLeaf6979wThe wasp was about 7/8” long, mainly a dark reddish color, with the rear half of its thorax black, and four narrow black bands circling its red abdomen. The wings were a purplish black, and it hind legs were especially long.

We were led to the stump by signals from the telemetry transmitter implanted in the female rattlesnake. At first, we thought there was no snake present. A glance at the hole in the top showed it to be small – perhaps too small for the large female. At any rate, we were still confused about where the rattler could be. That is when the wasp caught our attention and we started watching it. Had it not been for the wasp, we just might have moved further away – at least until the telemetry signal brought us right back to the stump. It was only after watching the wasp briefly that Doug realized the signal was “hot” above the stump, and dropped off sharply as the receiver was moved away from the stump. Then we looked more closely at the small hole on top of the stump and noted the baby rattlers – which I discussed in my September 23rd blog.

Before noting the baby rattlers, and after we had spent 20 minutes or so photographing them and examining the situation, we watched the wasp with interest. WaspLeaf6977wSeveral times it struggled, walking backwards, dragging a dead leaf, or a partial green leaf, up onto the stump. Often the wasp would lose control and drop the leaf, and quickly start over again. When successful, it dragged the leaf into a cavity or crevice in the stump. It did this in more than one cavity – though how many different such cavities or crevices we did not ascertain. All the while, it mostly ignored us – even though we were at time only 6 to 12 inches away from it with camera. Why was it dragging these leaves and some small twigs or pieces of bark into the rotting stump? We had no clue. After watching it for a while, I decided to capture it inside an empty film canister. (I always have at least 2 or 3 of these in my pack or camera bag – even though I’ve not shot film for 8 years. They are handy containers for lots of interesting finds!)

WaspSpider7152wBack in Columbus, it was not too hard to identify the wasp. The long antennae and long hind legs plus the wing venation quickly led to the family of wasps known as the Pompilidae, or spider wasps. As luck would have it, the natural history collections of the Ohio History Connection have one such specimen already in its holdings – so direct comparison of a known specimen confirmed its identification. The wasp is the Rusty Spider Wasp, also known as the Red-tailed Spider Wasp, Tachypompilus ferrugineus. The genus name is derived from tachy which means swift or rapid and the family name of spider wasps. The species name refers to the rusty red color, similar to iron rust. So the name means the rusty red, rapid spider wasp.

WaspSpiderHunting_WikipediaAs it turned out, a web search on the species found lots of references, but not a lot of behavioral information. It is considered a solitary wasp – the females not nesting in colonies like hornets, but nesting alone. Apparently, at least some of their prey are large wolf spiders and fishing spiders, and I found a photo online of one of these wasps dragging such a spider – reproduced here from Wikipedia.

All the spider wasps sting and paralyze spiders, which they drag live to their nests, and then lay one or more eggs on the spider. When the egg hatches, the larval wasps eat the paralyzed spider before molting into an adult spider wasp. This behavior somewhat mimics wasps in a different family known as Mud Dauber Wasps. One common mud dauber, known as Organ Pipe Wasp, builds a series of mud pipe-like structures attached to buildings. Each “pipe” contains a series of cells with a single spider on which a single egg was laid. Most people have seen the mud nests of these wasps. As mentioned, the mud daubers are in a different family and only somewhat similar in behavior and ecology to the spider wasps.

None of the references I could find detailed why a spider wasp might drag leaves into a cavity. Are these a form of insulation, to keep the spider and the egg or larvae warm until next spring? Do they serve some other purpose? Or is it just aberrant behavior of a wasp that has already produced several litters of eggs, and is acting out a drama without the normal spider prey involved? If any of my readers have access to an answer to this – let us know!

Oh! One more thing. Several of the references repeat the statement found in Borror & White’s Peterson’s Field Guide to the Insects, that “Spider wasps inflict a very painful sting.” It’s probably good that I had not read that before trying to trap this specimen in a film canister!

This specimen will soon be added to the OHC natural history collections – and details of our observations will be added to a file folder for the specimen – along with a copy of this blog.

By Bob Glotzhober, Curator Emeritus of Natural History

Beautiful Moon Photo, or is it!? Freak of the Week #24

Harvest moon, or not!?

Harvest moon, or not!?


Here’s a photo of the Sept. Harvest Moon that graced the night skies on Sept. 8th this year. What!? You say it’s not a photo of the moon!? Then what is it?
Put your response in the “Reply” box and we’ll post the correct answer later. If there are no correct guesses, then we’ll give a hint or two.