Social Media Claim

Winged spider ‘discovery’ claim doesn’t fly

A Facebook post from November 2, 2019 features an image of a spider with wings and states, “Scientist discovers winged spider.”

The Statement

AAP FactCheck examined a Facebook post from November 2, 2019 by Tumblr Made Me Do It featuring an image of a spider with wings and a caption beneath it stating, “Scientist discovers winged spider.”

The meme format, ‘The WHAT’ which shows a woman’s face on the left and the close up on the right appears beneath the image of the spider.

Tumblr Made Me Do It page has more than two million likes and states, “we post the most entertaining and viral content you've ever seen.”

The post has been shared more than 870 times and has attracted more than 2300 comments and 2400 reactions.

The original image was taken by Duke University researcher, Will Cook in Durham, North Carolina on September 23, 2007.

The Analysis

The spider with wings image can be traced back to at least December 2012 with the first spike in Google Trends showing people searching for the term, “winged spider”.

On March 10, 2014, an article titled, “Early Summer threatens UK with Volat-Araneus (The Flying Spider)” appeared online with the image warning that “Top Scientists and Professors from Albion University believe that Volat-Araneus (the Flying Spider) will, without a doubt, migrate to the UK this year”.

The article, posted on Digital Plumbing, references an incident involving the winged spider in the “fictional Republic of Kamistan (IRK)” and quotes Rebecca Jordan the “words (sic) leading expert in XenoArachnia” who said, “We have found from scientific studies that whenever a country’s population of False Widow increases we see the Volat-Araneus population increase more than ten times that amount within a year”.

The article ends by stating, “This article is one of thousands designed to do one thing, get your attention so you’ll visit the website (or worse). Before we continue, we need to apologise. We are sorry, but the story above is not real (if you hadn’t already realised).

“We needed to get your attention because we want to help you, we are a company offering technology repairs and other services. Some of the most common issues we encounter are “Slow PC’s”, you’re probably familiar with this yourself,” the article explained.

The post also credited The Daily Carrier, a travel blog, for its “initial post on Flying Spiders” from April 2013.

The original image was taken by Duke University researcher, Will Cook in Durham, North Carolina on September 23, 2007. The photo was of a Dolomedes sp., otherwise known as a ‘Fishing Spider’ eating a cockroach before the wings were photoshopped.

Dolomedes spiders, also known as Fishing Spiders, are water spiders, which can “walk on water due to the hairs on their legs”, according to the Museums Victoria website. The spiders can also dive and swim underwater to catch prey, including invertebrates and fish. Fishing spiders can be found in south-western, northern and eastern Australia on the mainland and Tasmania in swamps and lakes. Although they are not venomous, they are aggressive and can bite in self defence.

Ecologist and Associate Professor Dieter Hochuli from the University of Sydney told AAP FactCheck scientists have not discovered a spider with wings. “They don’t have the body plan to support it,” he said in an email.

Dr Hochuli said while there were no flying spiders, there are spiders which could perform “ballooning on threads of gossamer” where they release threads of silk into the wind which carries them through the air.

“They can disperse enormous distances on these very fine strands that they spin out and the move using whatever winds and air currents are there,” he said. “There are amazing stories of them travelling hundreds of kilometres, or being caught five kilometres up in the air.”

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post to be false. The image of a Dolomedes sp., or Fishing Spider, taken by Will Cook in 2007, was digitally altered to include wings. There are no known species of spiders which have developed wings and can fly, an expert confirmed to AAP FactCheck.

  • False - The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

First published November 11, 2019, 17:04 AEDT