Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

SPIDER OF BLUE, DILLY DILLY...

The blue mystery spider of Batley (Mary Howard)


Hot on the many heels of the shrieking centipede and the ant-mimicking tiger beetle documented in the previous ShukerNature comes yet another anomalous arthropod. This time? It's a bright-blue, seven-legged spider!

The original info was forwarded to me by Fortean Times, for whom I am preparing a full account of this remarkable case, and I have since been in contact with the eyewitnesses themselves, but here are the principal facts - and the all-important photograph:

The photo was snapped by Mary Howard, a retired biology teacher, outside her home in Batley, W Yorkshire, one early evening in June 2009, where it was also seen by her daughter, Louise Howard. In basic shape and form, the spider resembles a wolf spider or even one of those familiar long-legged Tegenaria house spiders that we've all seen scuttling across the carpet suddenly or attempting to clamber out of the bath, except for this extraordinary blue colour.

So, what are the options regarding its identity?

Is it:

1) A non-native species;

2) A freak blue specimen of a native species;

3) A normal spider exposed to UV light when photographed, making it fluoresce blue (many spiders do this);

4) A normal spider that has inadvertently covered itself in some blue dye, paint, chalk, etc;

5) A normal spider that has been deliberately painted blue, and probably held in place by one leg with tweezers while this was done (if the spider pulled away and its leg snapped off, this option would also explain its seven-legged state);

6) A normal spider in a photograph in which the spider has been photoshopped blue?

Those, as Shakespeare never wrote, are the questions!

Any thoughts or opinions would be greatly welcomed!


UPDATE - 20 April 2012

Since writing the above post, there have been several interesting developments, which I've documented in various of my Alien Zoo columns for Fortean Times, as well as in a longer, more detailed FT article. So here is an update of what has been happening in the world of mystery blue spiders!

Among the various comments that my above post elicited here on ShukerNature was one from a reader called Colin. After reading my longer FT article, Colin contacted me directly, and he now provided me with a more detailed account of his sighting. (In accordance with his request, I am not revealing Colin’s full name or address, but I have them on file.) Confessing that he hadn’t checked back on my blog after posting his original comment and thus hadn’t realised that I’d replied to it, Colin informed me that the location of his sighting was his own back garden in the town of Holmfirth – most famous until now as the setting for the filming of the BBC’s recently-ended long-running comedy series ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. Here is his description:

"The spider was almost precisely like the one in Mary Howard's picture, a bright royal blue but quite small, about 1 cm, or no more than 1/2". The plant pot I was removing had been weakened by frost damage over the last eight years and fell to pieces, spilling soil on to the hard standing where I park the car. There were various creepy crawlies, woodlice and such like running in all directions, including the blue spider. There was no 'nest' or multiple blue spiders, just the one and although it was remarkable enough in colour, it was small and my mind was on how I was going to gather up the soil from the pebbles...The location is in a small valley, south facing, sheltered and very warm for Northern England...Just to confirm, it wasn't a bit blue, or covered in a stain (though I have since wondered whether it was the result of a phosphorescent fungus from its dark, moist home) but really very bright, even vivid."

Phosphorescent fungi do sometimes stick to animals but usually glow green rather than blue, and the glow is normally noticeable only in the dark, not in daylight. In any case, why should only a single spider have become covered in it, and why have such spiders (or glowing woodlice too, etc) not been reported before? Clearly, the mystery of Yorkshire’s blue spiders has yet to receive a satisfactory explanation - unless of course Foggy, Compo, and Clegg have something to do with it?!

And still they came! After two separate but equally anomalous blue spiders had come to light in West Yorkshire within the space of a year, I subsequently learnt of a comparable encounter in the south of England. On 9 November 2010, after having read my FT article on these oddly-hued arachnids, long-time FT reader Carl Schalck sent me the following exciting news:

"Just thought I should let you know that last summer we had a fair few blue and black spiders in our garage in Lewes, East Sussex.

"I thought they were a bit strange, but I had no idea they were that rare. I think there were three of them, very similar to common garden spiders but covered in blue and black patches. They lived on the inside of the garage door."


What makes this report even more interesting is that, judging from Carl’s description, these spiders (unlike those from Yorkshire) do not appear to have been painted. This is because whereas even daubing a spider uniformly would not be an easy task, painting each of three spiders with a covering of blue and black spots would surely be nigh on impossible. And why on earth would anyone go to such an inordinate amount of trouble anyway? I already have on file records of confirmed colour mutation (though as yet not blue) in the common garden spider Araneus diadematus, so perhaps this trio represents a hitherto-unreported mutant version.

In July 2011, after reading my earlier blue spider accounts, Brian Weilert and his wife Stacia, a teacher, each sent me an email concerning a cobalt-blue spider with seven legs (a moulting injury?) that Stacia had captured a fortnight earlier in their garden in southeastern Kansas, USA. Since doing so, they had maintained it in a small specially-created habitat, and had been feeding it on live insects. It subsequently developed an eggsac, and produced a burrow. In response to their request for suggestions as to whom they should contact concerning this very notable spider, I urged them to bring it to the attention of researchers at any local museum, scientific institution, nature centre, or zoo, especially (in view of its eggsac) as it might well soon be bringing into the world an entire brood of spiderlings – which may or may not themselves be blue, depending upon the origin of their mother’s blue colouration. The Weilerts also sent me a couple of photographs of it, the clearer one of which I am reproducing here. It appears to be a lycosid wolf spider, of the genus Hogna – which is not known for natural blue species.

The blue wolf spider of Kansas (Brian and Stacia Weilert)

Until recently, the only logical non-hoax explanation for non-natural blue spiders seemed to be contact with some external source of blue pigment, such as paint or ink. On 4 January 2011, however, Norwegian correspondent Terje Jonassen alerted me to a remarkable but hitherto little-publicised discovery (documented in the Norwegian Journal of Entomology, 14 December 2010), which is as follows.

In recent times mostly, there have been over a hundred fully-confirmed, non-hoax cases of non-natural blue invertebrates, in particular woodlice, as well as dipterans (true flies) with aquatic larvae, which, when examined, were found to have been infected by a certain type of soil-inhabiting virus known as an invertebrate iridovirus (IIV). This virus is present in such high concentrations within the infected creature’s tissues that it forms crystalline aggregations. These emit a bright blue iridescence and thereby bestow this colouration upon the creature. IIV infection can be caused by feeding upon infected animals and also by parasitic nematode worms.

So it seems conceivable that the answer to the mystery of the blue spiders (or at least to some of them) may not involve encounters with external pigments or dyes but rather to internal IIV infection, most likely due to the spiders having consumed infected prey. Consequently, as noted earlier, I recommended to the Weilerts that they show their captive blue spider to local scientists, as that may provide the much-needed opportunity to investigate this exciting possibility directly.

I had been awaiting further news regarding the Weilerts' blue spider with great anticipation for some time, but when it finally came, via an email from Brian Weilert on 23 August 2011, it was not at all what I had hoped for or expected:

"Just a note to let you know how it all ended. The spiderlings hatched and were brown. We went away for a few days and when we returned she was dead and so were the babies. During this time Purdue University had contacted me. I took some photos of her, post mortem, as they requested and am sending them her body. Thanks for all your help during this episode."

I have already noted how infection by an iridovirus can result in freak blue invertebrates, which may therefore explain this and other, previously-reported freak blue spiders. But could the viral infection be directly transmitted from parent to offspring? Had the spiderlings been blue, this would not only have demonstrated pretty effectively that an iridovirus infection was indeed responsible here but also that it was directly transmissible. As they were not, however, the only hope left for a solution to the mystery of this particular blue spider is if the Purdue University researchers' investigations can conclusively identify the cause of its novel colouration. Once again, therefore, I now await further news from the Weilerts, and this time we can but hope that it is of a more positive, happier nature.

33 comments:

  1. hi mate , only me not knowing much of the info you have on it yet, my initial theory is that someones painted it with a spray. looking at the picture and assuming the spider was held by the missing leg and the spray was applied from the upper right of the picture,(anyone whose used a spray knows you have to move it in an arc around the subject to get an even cover otherwise you get missed spots that were shaded by higher areas.)looking at the lower legs youll notice black areas and deep into the joints youll notice missed areas as well. looking at a red kneed tarantula you can have colour variations through the legs but they are usually uniform to each leg whereas on this picture only a couple have black areas. some one must have been very careful and used powder in the spray or because most sprayable paints would sit on the skin and you'd see droplets of the propellent/paint mix on the tiny hairs of the spider.
    thats my initial conclusion until we have further info, although i do vaguely remember an artical once about certain species colouring being affected by variations in heat thats applied to them?

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  2. Disappointingly, it looks like the colour's topical to me - there appears to be some 'clagging' and matting-down of the leg and abdomen hairs, and patches that have been missed.

    I'm guessing acrylic paint, possibly even Games Workshop's Enchanted Blue.

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  3. I was intrigued to read this as I saw a spider of a very similar blue yesterday, also in Yorkshire!
    I was in the process of removing some large pots near a garden shed in which the resident climbing plants had taken root. The plant pot disintegrated in the process and from the fragments ran a small (no more than 1cm), bright blue spider. Although I'd never seen such a colour morph I have no particular interest in spiders and assumed its pigmentation was due to being buried away in the depths of the soil. I rather wish I had kept it now.
    Colin

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  4. Hi Karl.

    It's a spider that has been photoshopped blue, no question of it.

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  5. Thanks for all of the interesting and informative comments, everyone. From what 've read here, on my Facebook wall, and in various other emails and messages received, I personally favour the idea that the spider was deliberately painted blue and held by a leg while the paint was being applied, causing it, as it tried to pull away, to lose a leg. Certainly, examining the photo blown-up reveals matted setae (hairs) on the opisthosoma (spider abdominal section) and legs, which wouldn't have occurred were it merely a photoshoppd job. Neither would the blue pigment inconsistencies, revealing irregular brown/dark patches on various of the limbs.
    @Colin - What was the exact location within Yorkshire where you saw the blue spider, and are you certain that it was a spider, rather than, say, a glossy purple-blue beetle? I'd greatly welcome any further information that you could send me, either here on the blog or directly to me at my usual email address, karlshuker@aol.com Thanks very much.

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  6. I go with the painted blue while being held by one leg that snapped off. If it were a true 7 legged bug the 3 on that side would be spread out more to make up the gap.

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  7. Ok, I don't know about this spider but in 1993 I returned
    home from doing some errands, and pulled up
    next to my husbands truck parked in the driveway. To
    my horror, there say a bright turqoise blue spider which
    had bright yellow markings on it. The spider was fairly
    large and looked very different than the picture here. I was
    intimidated by this spider and sat in my car looking at it
    for quite some time. I have mentioned this to many people
    over the years but nobody seems to know anything about
    such a spider. I live in central Maine and have never seen
    anything like it since. Very strange!

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  8. I would Think blue pigmentation would be possible as lobsters can have it but this is painted and a lost leg not naturally occuring as the pigmentation would not look the way it does

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  9. Isn't that the spider that made Spiderman?

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  10. Crap....probably lost a leg somewhere!!

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  11. Blue spiders are not that uncommon, in fact many spiders have blue markings. Its is also known that a spider will eat it's own legs if It can't get food, or was eaten off while mating.

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  12. thay used chak from a chak line blue.

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  13. Its a Navi spider from Pandora!

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  14. I'm just wondering why anyone would torture a spider in this manner.

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  15. I did a blow-up of the image and it definitely appears to have been painted.

    If I'm not mistaken, you can also see some of the hairs on the spiders back sort of pasted by the paint to its body. Also there are many parts that were missed and the underside appears uncoloured.
    Some of the colouring appears in blotches like when too much paint is applied.

    Its the work of some sneaky kid ;-)

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  16. Maybe it was just having a bad day?

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  17. Zooming in on it, it certainly appears painted, blue pigmentation seems believable...but blue hairs? I don't think so. Some sections are not blue, but dark as you'd expect. Cruel and twisted.
    kcuhC

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  18. as a collector of tarantulas it is common within the hobby to have blue spiders

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  19. Who said it's real? There is always the possibility that its a toy spider thats been painted and had the leg ripped off

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  20. Wonder who the nasty cuss is to bother doing that to a creature.

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  21. So no World of Warcraft fans then

    Looks to me like the famous blue recluse or at least a brown recluse painted blue

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  22. So no World of Warcraft fans then

    Looks to me like the famous blue recluse or at least a brown recluse painted blue

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  23. Stanley H Tweedle7 November 2010 16:13

    In Batley they mostly support Huddersfield Town - whose fans have track record in spray painting things blue:
    http://www.football-chat.net/forums/lofiversion/index.php/t13695.html

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  24. I bought a honda applause quite a number of years ago, i had had it around 2 weeks (brand new) when i noticed something crawl out of the airconditioning duct! this spider was around a large palm (minus the fingers) in diameter and bright orange with fury legs! it crawled across the dash fairly quickly while i was driving and retreated into my apposing air conditioning vent, i saw it a totall of 4 times over a period of around a year, i had my car checked when it was being serviced but they often laughed and said they couldnt see anything after the service was complete! not blue but still freaking scary!

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  25. Wow! Good job you weren't arachnophobic, especially as you were driving at the time. Still, could have been worse - it might have been one of the dreaded vindscreen vipers! (groan!)

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  26. I wonder if anyone has considered an iridovirus infection. This is a common cause of blue colour in woodlice and many other invertebrates, and can be transmitted by eating infected tissue. Google 'blue woodlice' or in Dutch 'blauwe pissebedden' and you'll find many pictures.
    If the spider is collected, the theory can be tested by means of infecting other insects with the spider's blood.

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  27. Hi Louis,

    Yes, a mutual colleague, Terje Jonassen of Norway, alerted me to this phenomenon yesterday, sending me your paper on the blue craneflies and mentioning blue woodlice created by this means. I've been checking it all up since and I have found several online reports and photos of iridovirus-induced blue woodlice and also what may be an iridovirus-induced blue opilionid (harvestman), which, as an arachnid, would (if a genuine case of iridovirus-induced blue colouration) greatly increase the likelihood that the blue spiders that I've documented are also iridovirus-induced.

    So if anyone reading this encounters a blue spider, please try and capture it, so that this theory can be tested. Thanks very much!

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  28. My friend found a blue spider today in Yorkshire..posted a pic of it up on facebook...his son killed it though by throwing a toy at it....it looks like a garden spider but black an blue bits on it.. its quite big too..ill see if I can post the link

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  29. I'm 38 years old, living in Arkansas, U.S. When I was 5 or 6 years, I found a blue spider in the yard that looked identical to this. It had 8 legs. It was approximately 3 inches across in leg spread. I caught it and showed it to my mom and she disposed of it. I've been trying to explain this spider to people for years and everyone thinks I'm just toying with them. If anyone can tell me what this thing is, please post.

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  30. When I was little there were very large and colorful spiders around my childhood home. (Southern California) ranging from orange-red bright yellow and one horrifyingly huge blue one that came out of the bushes. So blue does occur in spiders. Probably just not all that often. Maybe its a weird mutation. Garden spiders are pretty colorful though I dunno if they're long lived. It could be that one hitched a ride from someplace else

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  31. Just got back from Nepal a couple of weeks ago and while I was there I found a bright blue spider like the one in the first picture. We were far up a mountain in a tiny village so to say the spider was dyed blue seemed very unrealistic. when I asked the locals about it they said it wasn't harmful. but they didn't speak much English at all.

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  32. Hi I want to know if theses kinda blue spider's r poisonous because on July 1 2014 my nephew had one on his back

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  33. I'd need to see a close-up good-quality photo of the spider to stand any reasonable chance of identifying it as it could be any one of a great number of different spider types.

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