A viral story about a spider laying eggs inside a cruise passenger's toe isn't true, experts say

A photograph shows a close up of a wolf spider carrying an egg sac
A stock image of a wolf spider carrying an egg sac.Joe McDonald/Getty Images
  • A man told the BBC that a spider laid eggs in his toe during a cruise ship stop in France.

  • The story went viral, with Colin Blake saying he was told a spider later came out of his toe.

  • But experts told BI spiders don't lay eggs in bodies, and questioned whether Blake was even bitten.

A BBC report about a cruise passenger who said that he was bitten by a wolf spider, which then laid eggs inside his toe, went viral on Monday.

But the story has attracted criticism from experts, who say it doesn't add up.

The BBC reported that a cruise ship passenger named Colin Blake received medical attention from onboard medical staff when his toe became swollen and purple after a visit to Marseille, France.

The toe was treated with antibiotics and released some pus when punctured, per the BBC.

Blake said medical staff told him tea-leaf-like blemishes in the pus were likely to be spider eggs, placed there by a bite that would have happened during an outdoor meal, the BBC reported.

Four weeks after the bite, Blake said doctors spotted a "foreign body" in his foot, which he said was later identified as a spider that was "making its way out — eating its way out of my toe."

"One of the spider eggs hadn't been flushed and must have hatched," Blake said, per the BBC, which added that the spider was identified as a Peruvian wolf spider.

The BBC also showed pictures of the passenger's big toe, swollen and discolored, which it reported was caused by the spider bite. The cruise company was not identified in the report.

But asked about the report, two experts told Business Insider that it's unlikely a spider was involved.

"Spiders do not lay eggs in other organisms. Not humans, not any other organisms," said Lena Grinsted, an evolutionary biologist who studies spider behavior at the University of Portsmouth

"The story has really got me riled up quite a lot. So, so outrageously inaccurate," she added.

Sara Goodacre, a professor of evolutionary biology and creator of the Spider in da House spider identification app, agreed. "Absolutely don't worry about whether a spider might come and lay eggs," she told BI.

"The whole story does not make any biological sense," she said.

Both said that doctors often misdiagnose scratches and cuts as spider bites.

Goodacre said that on pretty much every spider scare story that you hear – when someone says their "leg almost fell off" – it's then reported that the wound responded to antibiotic or antifungal treatment "or things that we know absolutely make no difference to spider venom."

Grinsted and Goodacre both noted that it is more likely that Blake's medical emergency was caused by an infection on a wound unrelated to a spider.

"The world around us is full of things that could make a little puncture mark. And the key thing is that totally fits the story. What absolutely doesn't fit, is the spider story," Goodacre said.

Goodacre and Grinsted also questioned the identification of the spider, which they say can be very difficult even for experts. Neither were aware of a species called a "Peruvian wolf spider."

"I have no idea where they got that from," said Grinsted, adding that wolf spiders, members of the family Lycosidae, can be found in Europe, but that "their venom is not medically significant for humans."

"It's shocking that the BBC would just report this purely based on hearsay and what this person might have heard from some local doctor somewhere or might have just thought by himself," Grinsted said.

In a statement sent to Business Insider, the BBC said that the article fell below its expected editorial standards.

"We have now amended the report clarifying that these were claims made by the patient. We have also contacted an expert for their view and added that to the article," it said.

Correction — November 28, 2023: An earlier version of the article misspelled Lena Grinsted's name. This has been corrected throughout.

Read the original article on Business Insider