Attack of the Two-Striped Telamonia
Date Added: Nov. 25, 2002
Urban legends often derive from jokes or other bits of humor. As they circulate bits of "fact" are added while obvious signs of the tale's fictional nature are removed or replaced. The tale of the deadly toilet spider is a prime example of this type of social engineering.
WARNING: From the University of North Florida
An article by Dr. Beverly Clark, in the Journal of the United Medical Association (JUMA), the mystery behind a recent spate of deaths has been solved. If you haven't already heard about it in the news, here is what happened.
Three women in North Florida, turned up at hospitals over a 5-day period, all with the same symptoms. Fever, chills, and vomiting,followed by muscular collapse, paralysis, and finally, death. There were no outward signs of trauma. Autopsy results showed toxicity in the blood. These women did not know each other, and seemed to have nothing in common. It was discovered, however, that they had all visited the same Restaurant (Olive Garden) within days of their deaths. The health department descended on the restaurant, shutting it down. The food, water,and air conditioning were all inspected and tested, to no avail.
The big break came when a waitress at the restaurant was rushed to the hospital with similar symptoms. She told doctors that she had been on vacation, and had only went to the restaurant to pick up her check. She did not eat or drink while she was there, but had used the restroom. That is when one toxicologist, remembering an article he had read, drove out to the restaurant, went into the restroom, and lifted the toilet seat.
Under the seat, out of normal view, was a small spider. The spider was captured and brought back to the lab, where it was determined to be the Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata), so named because of its reddened flesh color. This spider's venom is extremely toxic, but can take several days to take effect. They live in cold, dark, damp climates, and toilet rims provide just the right atmosphere.
Several days later a lawyer from Jacksonville showed up at a hospital emergency room. Before his death, he told the doctor, that he had been away on business, had taken a flight from Indonesia, changing planes in Singapore, before returning home. He did not visit (Olive Garden), while there. He did, as did all of the other victims, have what was determined to be a puncture wound, on his right buttock.
Investigators discovered that the flight he was on had originated in India. The Civilian Aeronautics Board (CAB) ordered an immediate inspection of the toilets of all flights from India, and discovered the Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata) spider's nests on 4 different planes! It is now believed that these spiders can be anywhere in the country.
So please, before you use a public toilet, lift the seat to check for spiders. It can save your life! And please pass this on to everyone you care about
Officer Sylvia Steele
This one has a few things wrong with it: There is no such thing as the Journal of the United Medical Association, nor is it likely that any such article on this subject by "Dr. Beverly Clark" ever appeared in any medical journal. Additionally, the Civil Aeronautics Board disbanded in 1984! There have been no reliable and valid accounts of such mysterious injuries or deaths at Olive Garden or any other restaurant.
This urban legend has taken many forms over the years. As it circulates, more detail is removed or replaced to make it seem more believable and less like the joke it was probably intended to be. This latest version is stripped of many of the "facts" that made earlier versions easy to research and debunk. The earliest Internet version (1999) I found links the mysterious deaths to "Big Chappies" restaurant in "Blare" airport in Chicago (presumably an abberation of "O'Hare") and identifies the spider as the hilariously named "South American Blush Spider" or "arachnius gluteus."
Omission of the fictitious airport and replacement of the equally fake spider with a real one (Two-Striped Telamonia) in this version, combined with a heady case of "False Attribution Syndrome" have given this old hoax new life.
This is not a notice from the University of North Florida. The school became unwillingly affiliated with this hoax when one of its employees (presumably "Officer Sylvia Steele," though her title seems incongruous with a position within the Science Department) received and forwarded it, inadvertently adding her signature and credibility to the message. Since it would seem that someone representing a university science department would know things like this, it makes sense to assume they are the source of it. Somewhere along the way (either coincidentally or intentionally) references to Chicago were replaced with "North Florida" to help the tale make more sense.
"False Attribution Syndrome," as we at BreakTheChain.org like to call this phenomenon, creates a lot of headache for employers and is why most prohibit their employees from using their business e-mail accounts for personal correspondence. Many employees have been reprimanded or terminated after becoming associated with a chain letter. This is just one of the very real dangers anyone faces when they forward a warning like this one without checking it out first. Break this chain!
References: Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com