Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the 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), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), 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), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Monday, 29 June 2020

GIANT SPIDERS IN LOUISIANA? Part 2: TWO EVEN CLOSER ARACHNID ENCOUNTERS IN 2007


A second spectacular giant spider illustration by Swedish artist and friend Richard Svensson – see Part 1 of this ShukerNature blog article for a previous one by him (© Richard Svensson)

In Part 1 of this online world-exclusive ShukerNature blog article of mine (click here to read it), I documented a hitherto-unpublished alleged sighting of a giant spider in 2005 by an American soldier in Louisiana, as recalled to me by him via a series of emails. However, the soldier, whom I am referring to merely as Sgt S (not his real rank or initial), also had two further sightings of such creatures, and in much the same location, but this time in 2007. I ended Part 1 of this article by quoting a section from his email to me of 29 July 2019 concerning his 2005 sighting, but this same email also contained a full account of his two 2007 sightings, plus some thoughts by him concerning the possible lifestyle of these mega-spiders. So here are his 2007 account and thoughts:

2007 Sightings

During another pre-deployment training exercise at Fort Polk, Louisiana, within the Fort Polk Wildlife Management Area and centered at FOB Forge in the same area as the 2005 sighting, I briefly observed another giant spider in daylight hours and again at night. This one was different than the 2005 sighting as it was larger, with thicker legs and body, as well as a darker coloring. I attached a map depicting the approximate location of each sighting.

The first sighting was in the late afternoon when two other soldiers and I went for a run on Alligator Lake Loop, a wide dirt road between two wooded areas near Highway 469. One of the soldiers began suffering from heat exhaustion and sat down in the road. We moved her to the shade, and I ran for help. When I returned with the medics, they placed the patient on the truck, and we all started moving back when a Sergeant complained he stepped on something sticky. Immediately a batch of leaves on the embankment started moving. He and I both saw the head of a giant hairy spider pop up and back down. He wrote it off as a squirrel, but I clearly saw it pop up and move its head around then drop back down. It had two huge shiny black eyes each about three or four inches around. The head itself was bigger than one foot and looked like the head of a tarantula. It had thick hairy bristles all over it with large white or clear fangs which were only partially exposed, but with smaller horizontal pinchers facing each other at a small mouth about two or three inches each. Its coloring was a dark brown with light striped color variations giving it excellent camouflage for the area. It dropped back down into the leaves and essentially disappeared so when we asked if anyone else saw it, there was nothing to see but dry leaves and dirt. Everyone was heading back so we took off running and jumped on the medic truck. When we got back to the aid station, the Sergeant who stepped in the sticky spot had lost his running shoe. He went back later looking for the shoe but could not find it anywhere on that trail.

In the late afternoon, our Platoon Sergeant wanted to see how far we ran and exactly what happened, so we walked back to the same spot. At the location of the sighting, we were talking about the incident and heard leaves rustling and a light thud behind us. We turn around and the missing shoe was there behind us in the middle of the road that we just walked through. We were both astonished as we could not have missed a white shoe in the middle of a wide dirt road. The shoe was wet (on a hot, dry day on the dry dirt road) and it looked like it had been chewed on, with big holes in it. My Platoon Sergeant thought someone was playing tricks on us and angrily started yelling “Who’s out there? Show yourself?” We heard a loud hissing and clicking coming from the ground and the leaves on the embankment started shaking so naturally, we both took off running and screaming like banshees. Senior leadership ordered us not to say anything about it to anyone and cautioned everyone to stay in groups.

Louisiana giant spider, 2007 daytime sighting (plus earlier-described 2005 sighting), marked out by Sgt S on Google map (© Google Maps – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Later that week during the training exercises, I was positioned at an attic window of a fake wooden house in a staged village. Around midnight I saw an old buddy from basic training walking by and I stopped him to talk. I walked out on the roof and jumped down to catch up and have a cigarette. A few minutes later, while talking with my back to the house he suddenly got very scared, yelled and threw his cigarette lighter at the house, and ran away. When I turned around, I caught a glimpse of the giant spider walking away on the roof I was just standing on about 12 feet away. It was easily six feet around at the feet and the torso was roughly one foot thick by two feet long. I could see two claws at the end of the back feet. It was dark brown with light stripes. It looked very much like an enormous tarantula with thick legs about two inches around at the feet and three to four inches at the base. I threw rocks at it as it scurried away, and it scampered off the roof and disappeared into the darkness of the woods.

My old friend came back with his Commander and he was noticeably shaken, hyperventilating, and almost crying, completely out of character for him (he was later referred to mental health and I did not see him again after that night). I confirmed to the Captain what I saw and after conferring with senior leadership, once again they told us it wasn’t real, and if we talked about it, we would be ridiculed, and our careers jeopardized. As far as I know, nothing was put on record about the incidents.

This concludes my accounts of the giant spiders at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Louisiana giant spider, 2007 night sighting, marked out by Sgt S on Google map (© Google Maps – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

My assumptions based on observations of the incidents:

1. The spider is rarely seen because it is nocturnal and burrowing, probably living in underground nests connected by spider-tunnels, it also moves extremely fast and retreats hastily when confronted.

2. It is an ambush Alpha predator, utilizing trapdoor-style burrows with draglines to detect prey. It makes thatched covers for these trapdoor burrows with sticks and leaves and its own silk. It may attack and consume humans if they are alone.

3.  It may scent mark its prey or deploy a chemical defense to ward off attackers.

4.  It may track or hunt by scent. (I believe the animal was able to find me on the roof of a building days later after encountering it a mile away. I believe this to be the case as I urinated in the wood line at both locations. Either that or it scent-marked me the two times I was there).

5. The sightings in 2005 and 2007 may have been the same species but different sex, as female spiders are often larger and different color than males.

6.  Military leadership may choose to keep a lid on the existence of such creatures to prevent public panic, destruction of morale, loss of training schedule and facilities as well as the loss of contracts and to avoid scrutiny of primary leadership if said creatures are responsible for missing persons.

7.  Local soldiers and cadre offer jokes about the creatures but also issue serious cautions to stay together in groups particularly at night because of actual missing person cases.

 Thank you for your time.

Louisiana giant spider, distance between 2005 and 2007 sightings, marked out by Sgt S on Google map (© Google Maps – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

As can be imagined, faced with such an extraordinary yet so soberly-written and detailed an account I was nothing if not nonplussed, and responded to it with the following email of my own:

Since my previous email to you, I've read and re-read your two very detailed emails to me regarding the apparent giant spiders witnessed by you and others at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Based upon your descriptions, there can be little doubt that the creatures were indeed spiders, but I am at a loss to explain their size, as this is so much bigger than fundamental arachnid anatomy and physiology would normally embrace. The traps and trap-lids that you mention are certainly reminiscent of those created by trap-door spiders, and I also agree with your various conclusions at the end of your second email. How such sizeable spiders, even if nocturnal, could have succeeded in eluding scientific discovery, however, remains as perplexing to me as their size. What would be interesting and potentially enlightening in relation to such questions and mysteries would be to ascertain if others, perhaps including other servicemen, have also spoken of encountering such creatures. So with that in mind, and having already received your kind permission to do so, I shall indeed compile an article at some point, based upon your accounts, and see what it may elicit. There must surely be some historical precedents involved here, local people or those spending time in the area, such as fellow servicemen as noted earlier, must surely have stories of their own, and perhaps giving yours some publicity will encourage them to come forward with their testimonies.

Meanwhile, thank you once again most sincerely for kindly making your experiences known to me and for the amount of detail concerning them that you have presented - a fascinating read indeed.

On 6 August, I received a final email from Sgt S concerning his experiences:

Outstanding! Thank you Dr Shuker for all your efforts. I will offer you two more pieces of information that I recalled about the sightings. For the 2005 sighting, when the creature turned around to flee into the trees, it appeared to have something about the size of a basketball tied or stuck to its back legs, dangling separate from the body. I think this may have been a smaller captured prey that it carried off. I bring this up because it may answer why it's evaded discovery, if it instinctually carries off its victims to multiple burrows.

Also, while inspecting the 2005 area a senior officer claimed he saw it and ordered everyone to withdraw from the area. He also ordered we remain silent on the issue or there would be serious concurrences.

In the 2007 incident, as the Platoon Sergeant and I turned to run away I felt something like water spray the back of my legs. Afterward other soldiers were complaining that I had a horrible musty smell about me and my clothing even though I was very routine with my personal hygiene. I believe the spider scent marked me allowing it to locate me inside the attic of a building a day later. My thought is that this highly predator[y] behavior has eliminated previous eye witnesses.

Thank you and good luck.

So there we have it – either a meticulously thought-out hoax or one of the most astonishing cryptozoological testimonies ever recorded! If the former, it is important that the full details as originally provided are documented so that they can be consulted if later retellings by others embellish or distort; if the latter, it goes without saying that as comprehensive a documentation as possible is essential in order to preserve an immensely significant mystery beast case.

Female Carolina wolf spider (© Noah J Mueller/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

The largest species of spider known to exist in much of North America is the Carolina wolf spider Hogna carolinensis, a burrow-digging species whose females, black in colour and larger than the males, measure up to 25 mm in body length – a far cry indeed from the colossi claimed by Sgt S. Of especial interest, however, is that his accounts of alleged giant spiders in Louisiana are not unprecedented. As I documented in a ShukerNature blog article of mine from 30 July 2014 dealing with alleged sightings of giant spiders (click here to read it), and as also briefly alluded to by Sgt S in one of his emails to me, just such creature had indeed been reported from that very same American State, but almost 60 years before the first of Sgt S's three encounters. Here is what I wrote about it:

One of the most startling giant spider reports comes from Leesville in Louisiana, USA. According to William Slaydon, it was here, while walking northwards along Highway 171 to church one cool night in 1948, that he, his wife, and their three young grandsons had spied a gigantic spider - hairy, black, and memorably described as "the size of a washtub". It emerged from a ditch just ahead of them and crossed the road before disappearing into some brush on the other side. Not surprisingly, the family never again walked along that particular route to church at night!

Moreover, just a few days ago, on 25 June 2020, longstanding friend and fellow cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard briefly recalled on his public Facebook timeline an alleged giant spider reported in the Atlanta area, Georgia, by a firefighter. Ken stated that this eyewitness had claimed that the spider was 11 inches across (as big as a dinner plate), and that when he first saw it out of the corner of his eye he thought that it was a cat! Ken fully documented this report as follows in his book A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts (2016):

I was admittedly shocked when I was contacted by a man from College Park, Georgia, who described an encounter with a nightmare-sized specimen. The witness, Christopher Williams, has an impressive background, having worked as a fireman and EMT for the past fifteen years. As William tells it, he was mowing his grass early one summer morning a few years ago, and when he bumped his lawnmower into the side of a tall pine tree in his front yard, the impact caused something to move. Out of the corner of his eye, Williams detected something that was brown in color easing slowly up the tree. As he turned to look, he was horrified to realize that the object in question was in fact the father of all wolf spiders and in his own words was at least eleven inches long, "as big as a house cat."

Immediately aware that he was looking at something that wasn't supposed to exist, Williams backed up slowly and headed into the house in order to retrieve either his camera or cell phone. He was admittedly concerned that such a move could place him in danger, as it might motivate the enormous arachnid to pounce on him. By the time Williams returned a couple of minutes later with camera in hand, the thing had disappeared. All I can add to this perplexing mystery is that, despite the extraordinary nature of his claim, over the phone Williams came off as an impressively sincere and credible eyewitness.

Ken's FB post recalling Atlanta's mega-arachnid shortly afterwards received a response from a mutual FB friend, Kimberly Poeppey, who recalled two further reports of giant spiders in the USA, both of which were new to me, and she later added a few additional details on her own FB timeline following my request for any further information that she may have. According to one of these reports, a couple pulling up in their motor vehicle to their house's open drive near the Everglades in Florida reputedly spied a puppy-sized spider squatting in the garage's open doorway, but when they pulled up it wandered off into the bushes. Kimberly believes that this occurred within the past 20 years. In the second incident, two sewer operatives in New York City were working on a water line in a crawl space within an old building's basement when in their flashlights' beam many eyes shone back at them, and supposedly the beam further revealed that these eyes belonged to a huge spider, bigger than a rat! Kimberly believes that this occurred some time during the 1960s/1970s, and she recalls that the two operatives refused to go back in there afterwards.

Are the Everglades in Florida home to puppy-sized spiders? (public domain)

In over three decades of research into mystery animals of many kinds, I have read countless testimonies and spoken to numerous alleged eyewitnesses of unidentified beasts. During that very long period of time, I have gained no small degree of insight concerning the truthfulness or otherwise of such documents and persons. To my mind, drawing extensively upon this valuable experience, the accounts of Sgt S ring true, and the above-noted report from 1948 of just such a spider in the very same area of Louisiana lends anecdotal support if nothing else.

In addition, the following comments elicited from Facebook friend Willis Beyer on 25 June shortly after I posted Part 1 of this article to the Cryptozoology group on FB are well worth recording here. According to Willis:

Karl, seriously, after spending roughly five months training at Ft. Polk back in the summer of 1970, including time in the "bush" preparing for Vietnam duty, I wouldn't be surprised at all that the soldiers actually saw a cryptid arachnid there.

Please understand that I am speaking of the place as it was then from half-century old memories, OK? But at that time, areas of the "bush" there that were used for pre-Vietnam training were the hottest, most humid, "jungliest" environment that I had ever spent time in. (I later found out that they were worse than some areas of the bush in Vietnam.) Insects, snakes (both poisonous and non-poisonous), lizards, bats, opossums, raccoons, armadillos, wild dogs, feral hogs, etc., abounded. A very large cryptid species of arachnid would have had plenty of available prey!

Consider this: A late good friend of mine, a Marine, spent two tours in the central highlands. Long story short, while he was there, two Marines from his outfit were taken by tigers, both at night, both from FOPs (forward observation posts). According to my friend, they were reported as KIA, but their families were never told the circumstances of their deaths, just that they had been killed.

Also, in my experience, the military didn't actively pursue AWOLs, at least stateside. The usual response, unless the serviceperson in question had access to critical classified MOS info was, "they'll eventually turn up".

Needless to say, Willis's comments corroborate very closely a number of the claims made by Sgt S in his extensive account. How to explain his giant spider reports from a strictly zoological perspective, conversely, is another matter entirely.

Life-sized model of a griffinfly ( GermanOle/Wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

This is because there are notable physiological constraints to consider when considering the likelihood of such creatures actually existing. As I noted back in my July 2014 ShukerNature article and also in my emails to Sgt S, some of today's largest known spiders utilise a tracheal respiratory system comparable to that of insects, i.e. consisting of a network of minute tubes that carry oxygen to every cell in the body. However, this prevents such spiders and all insects from attaining huge sizes in the modern world, because the tracheae could not transport oxygen efficiently enough inside spiders or insects of giant stature. During the late Carboniferous and early Permian Periods, 300 million years ago, conversely, huge relatives of dragonflies known as griffinflies or meganisopterans did exist, but back in those primeval ages the atmosphere's oxygen level was far greater than it is today, thereby compensating for the tracheal system's inefficiency. 

In contrast to known species of large modern-day spider, smaller spiders employ flattened organs of passive respiration called book lungs rather than a tracheal system. Yet neither system is sufficiently competent to enable spiders to attain enormous sizes, based upon current knowledge at least. So if a giant spider does thrive in some secluded, far-off realm, let alone in Louisiana, it must have evolved a radically different, much more advanced respiratory system, not just a greatly enlarged body.

Coconut crab (© Whologwhy/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

Interestingly, there is a notable precedent for the development of a truly novel respiratory organ among large land-dwelling arthropods, which I discussed as follows in my July 2014 ShukerNature article:

 The largest of all such species known to be living today is the coconut crab Birgus latro, which sports a body length of up to 16 in, a weight of up to 9 lb, and a leg span of more than 3 ft. Indigenous to various islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, despite being a crab it is exclusively terrestrial (it cannot swim and will drown if immersed in water for over an hour), and has evolved a unique respiratory organ known as a branchiostegal lung that enables it to exist entirely on land, and which developmentally can be seen as midway between gills and true lungs.

So who knows: if crustaceans (which are predominantly aquatic arthropods) can achieve this during evolution, maybe spiders (which are predominantly terrestrial anyway) have also achieved something analogous. Moreover, it has been suggested that perhaps some reports of so-called giant spiders are actually sightings of giant land crabs, but crabs are very different in appearance from spiders, due in no small way to their instantly visible chelae (pincers), and no such crabs are known to exist in any of the world regions from which giant spiders have been reported.

In addition, with its extremely heavy, bulky body and thick exoskeleton the coconut crab also provides an effective counter to arguments that a species of spider possessing similar physical accoutrements, as might be expected from one with specimens as big as the claimed Louisiana examples reported here, could not exist for fundamental anatomical and physiological reasons.

Having said that, all of this is in any case sheer speculation, and is likely to remain so – unless, as hoped for by Sgt S, someone should not only capture or kill a giant spider in Louisiana but also retain or preserve its body afterwards, and duly alert scientific attention to it. Only then will we know for certain that mega-arachnids really do exist, and, therefore, have indeed overcome all physiological constraints. Meanwhile, his remarkable story is now, at last, fully accessible to the public – so who can say what it may elicit at some stage in the future?

I wish to offer my most sincere thanks to Sgt S for contacting me and for so kindly permitting me to document fully here his very thought-provoking accounts; and as always to my exceedingly talented artist friend Richard Svensson for so kindly permitting me to utilise his awesome artwork in my writings.

In addition to the two parts of this article and my previously-referenced July 2014 article, for further reports of giant spiders presented here on ShukerNature please click here, here, and here.

Atlach-Nacha, the Spider God of Clark Ashton Smith’s primordial Hyperborea (© Richard Svensson)




5 comments:

  1. I instantly thought of the coconut crab when I read these stories, and I consider it more likely they're unknown relatives of the coconut crab than spiders.

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  2. As I have stated in my article above: "Moreover, it has been suggested that perhaps some reports of so-called giant spiders are actually sightings of giant land crabs, but crabs are very different in appearance from spiders, due in no small way to their instantly visible chelae (pincers), and no such crabs are known to exist in any of the world regions from which giant spiders have been reported."

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  3. Id this is all true, this is freaking nightmare material.

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  4. Couple of thoughts I had reading this:

    1. As you pointed out, it wouldn't be hard to find out if there is a history of sightings in the area. Just got to the nearest town and ask around. I was wondering why they would only be seen in one area on the state. However, the other stories, at least mean that they could be spread out a bit more around the country. There are a lot of heavily wooded areas and swamps in the South.

    2. I was unaware of any females having passed the Ranger school in or around the time of 2005-2007. Sgt. S used the term she to describe another soldier. He also says he is a member of the 101st. That's a Ranger battalion. The first females to graduate Ranger school did not do so until 2015. They were both LTs.

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  5. These stories have the ring of a tall tales to me

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