The BBC backs down

I guess enough people complained about the stupidity of their article about spider eggs in some dork’s toe. They’ve posted retraction.

An expert has disputed Mr Blake’s claim that a spider could have laid its eggs in a human foot.

Dr Sara Goodacre from the University of Nottingham said: “I can’t possibly see how it could be true at all because I know about their biology.

“[The egg sacs] take quite a while to spin. The spider venom is not necrotising, it is designed to paralyse a fruit fly.”

She said that when a wolf spider lays it eggs, they are kept in a substance that looks like a ball of cotton, which some species carry on their backs.

Dr Goodacre said there had been no reports suggesting the eggs could live in a “pus-infected wound”.

She added: “There is no European wolf spider that could really penetrate the skin.”

The British Arachnological Society also called it “implausible”.

So far, they haven’t apologized for their lax fact checking or the patent stupidity of their article.


  1. nomdeplume says

    “I can’t possibly see how it could be true at all” – “It is absolutely untrue”. There, fixed that for you. Why are scientists so reluctant to call out even complete bs? It does science, and humanity, no service to play the “no certainties in science” card in the face of media and public madness.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    The absence of parasitic juvenile spiders is a gap in nature that loudly demands to be filled (stomps off to the lab).
    What? I inherited it from Dr. Gireau. BTW what is latin for “lays eggs in the brain”?

  3. psanity says

    What bothers me the most is that apparently at no point did anyone ask if this poor man has diabetes or some other condition that might cause him to not notice his toe is damaged and infected until it became septic. That would be something he needs to know.

    No wonder they are always having epidemics on cruise ships if this is the quality of medical care. Although, the cruise line is not named, and there is no statement from the cruise line, which makes me wonder if the whole thing was fabricated. Just a suspicious mind, I guess.

  4. andywuk says

    Looks like the original article was written by one of their local studios journos (Tyne & Wear) and not one of the national journalists whose stuff is checked before being published. “Local” BBC news has always been of questionable quality and over-sensationalised.

    No apology, because that would imply responsibility, and if it causes real problems blame can be dumped downwards.

  5. DanDare says

    @1 “Why are scientists so reluctant to call out even complete bs?”

    They are committed to the burden of evidence. Calling “unproven” and “seemingly impossible” are equivalent to “assumed not true untill evidence indicates otherwise”.

    I prefer it.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    Psanity @ 3
    I am not at all surprised something like this could slip past the staff.

    13 years of “austerity” economics and underfunding has left the British national health service underfunded and understaffed.
    On top everything else it is now a bureaucratic nightmare to recruit staff from abroad, and Britain just does not have the training infrastructure to train enough nurses and doctors- before Brexit, the shortfall was compensated by recruiting competent staff abroad.

    Imagine self-harm on a North Korean scale but implemented by a democracy.
    At least this guy is alive. Nor did his toe need amputation.
    The scrapping of the social safety net and the overstressed health care system had killed thousands even before COVID hit.

    I have seen this unfold for more than a decade (The Guardian has no paywall) and I have learned more than I want about Brit corruption and media manipulation.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Myself @ 6
    Oops, I did not get it was on board a ship. My bad.
    I expected it to be in some overcrowded clinic.
    Still damning, but slightly more understandable that it got overlooked.

    Speaking of Britain, it will be contributing with ships to patrolling the Baltic along with other nations, to prevent Russian “hybrid warfare”.
    Navies is a thing the Brits still are good at.

  8. John Morales says

    Original claim:
    Growing concerned, Mr Blake visited the ship’s doctor and found that a Peruvian wolf spider had bitten him and laid eggs in his toe.

    Emended claim:
    “As he was travelling on a cruise, he visited the ship’s doctor and was told that the swelling had been caused by a wolf spider.

    But an arachnologist has said wolf spiders were incapable of laying their eggs inside humans.”
    “The initial report was based on information given by Mr Blake to a hospital, which referred to a Peruvian wolf spider.”

    After being given antibiotics to combat the toxins, a “foreign body” was cut out of his toe and he is set to make a full recovery.

    The medical staff cut his toe open with a scalpel and a milk-like pus came out.

    The pus looked like it contained tea leaves, which turned out to be spider eggs.

    Emended claim:
    “After his toe began to look infected, medical staff cut it open with a scalpel and a milk-like pus came out.

    Mr Blake claims spider eggs were seen in the liquid.”

    And so forth. I imagine there was much chagrin.
    There’s a reason why journalistic reporting has to be accurate.

    (And, again: the importance of E-Prime; cf. also )

  9. John Morales says

    [addendum/erratum — sorry]

    Orphaned quotation:
    After being given antibiotics to combat the toxins, a “foreign body” was cut out of his toe and he is set to make a full recovery.
    “Back in the UK, Mr Blake was treated at hospital and was given a course of antibiotics to reduce the swelling.”

  10. wzrd1 says

    Both claims are rather odd, as antibiotics won’t counter toxins, nor will they reduce swelling. They kill bacteria and some few other microorganisms. As I’m rather doubtful that he had malaria of a big toe, let’s just call it a bacterial infection and possibly some fungal involvement.
    Both of which are known to be carried on spiders fairy wings. Or something.

    OK, maybe a splinter, bacterial infection and toe jam.
    Yeasts do weird things outside of their normal environment, rather than fitting into a community of a biofilm, when alone, they assume wildly different colonization methods. As an example, candida albicans has three modes of colonization, one being in the GI tract peacefully part of the biofilm present there that helps digest our foods and nutrients. As a pathogen, it can exist as an individual yeast cell mode or as filamentous cells. The latter being the infamous crotch rot.

  11. wzrd1 says

    True, but the antibiotics don’t relieve the inflammation, they eliminate the cause of the inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs relieve inflammation and don’t address the cause.
    Just supremely shoddy writing, due to uncritically accepting whatever is told and reporting it as fact, regardless of whether it’s right, wrong or not even wrong.

  12. hemidactylus says

    At least he wasn’t bitten by a brown recluse or black widow, the pit viper and coral snake of the toxic spiders.

    Most spiders and snakes are relatively harmless or so they say. I don’t know what these beasts are plotting in their little nests.

    They might be fomenting woke ideology. Have you ever seen a garter snake orgy? Libertines!

  13. hemidactylus says

    My mom hated snakes so when I kept a couple as pets she was not amused. An early memory of mine was of her smacking a large spider carrying an egg sac which may have been a wolf spider with a fly swatter. Hundreds of baby spiders escaped the carnage. Good job with that mom! I recall a disconcerting spider swarm exiting the scene.

    A coworker over a decade ago was upset by a spider and called me to remove it humanely. I secured it in a cup and released it outside. My coworker was scared of the spider but happy with my response.

    There’s a moral in there about not inheriting hatred from parents I suppose.

  14. hemidactylus says

    I’ve only been on one cruise ever and was not impressed. Floating oversized portable toilets. The wafting shit smell in the halls was offputting. I became well acquainted with the bar that week.

    This spider story sounds like that fishy butt spider scare at rest stop toilets. You want to know what a a seriously salient fear of cruise ships should be? Norovirus. Not parasitic spiders infecting your toe but rapidly spreading projectile puking. Yeah no!

  15. hemidactylus says

    chigau (違う)
    Which reminds me that earlier today I saw a gecko outside my house on my AC unit. It is going into the 40s tonight. I should have caught it and brought it inside in the warmth risking a likely tail pop. Inside my house it might feast on multiple spiders so my noble intention with that would also killed spiders but result in a warm happy gecko. Dammit. There’s an anole living in my mailbox which looked cold stunned last week but bounced back when it warmed. If I save cold lizards I kill bugs. Choices.

  16. hemidactylus says

    I just did a sweep outside for both lizards and could not find either. I would have brought them in under tacit agreement to hunt bugs in my house. I have my thermostat at 68 but warmer than outside.

  17. StevoR says

    @ chigau (違う) : “Some spiders that you find indoors cannot survive out in your garden.”

    From what I gather & have heard incl. via some with pretty good relevant knowledge spiders esp Huntsmen (the Sparassidae formerly Heteropodidae family) tend to starve inside homes* since there’s not usually enough prey for them.

    As for the specific “Peruvian Wolf Spider” species involved, well, google gave this BS story as the main result for it on entering the PWS common name but scrolling down the search results led eventually to finding that there are apparently at least five species from Peru : (Plus also Bolivia. Range overlap for some or all those I guess?)

    Five Lycosidae species from Peru and Bolivia described by Embrik Strand in 1908 are redescribed based on type specimens deposited in the Museum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden and the Naturmuseum Senckenberg, Frankfurt. Hogna subaustralis (Strand) and H. yauliensis (Strand) remain in the genus Hogna and the male of H. subaustralis is described for the first time. Hogna rufimanoides (Strand) comb. nov., Hipasella arapensis (Strand) comb. nov. and Allocosa yurae (Strand) comb. nov. have all been transferred to other genera. New records from Peru were provided for all species.

    Source :

    Whether any of those or other species have that particular “Peruvian Wolf Spider” common name (perhaps generic for several or all species in the Lycosidae family from the region?) I couldn’t find. Perhaps PZ or some other Arachnologists could enlighten us here please?

    The lack of the zoological spacies name further dimishes the credibility of the BBC reporting as well as making it harder to identify which exact arachnid species they were referring to in that sorry excuse for a news story.

    The fact that the search results seem to show no pages specifically giving a single species with that common name seems to indicate that no such commonly named sepcies exists or is well known to either cruise line passengers or doctors aboard cruise ships.

    I also wonder how such an arachnid would manange to reach and survive long there. I would guess that there would be little prey aavailable to sustain the supposed PWS and would be obstacles to wolf spiders living for more than very breif periods in a such an environment. Particularly species with ranges restricted to South American tropical / alpine (?) environments but am well out of my jurisdiction here so can’t rule it out.

    .* Notably Australian ones and specifically mine via a Nature forum on showing a picture of an impressive huntsman in my house once.. I did (& usually do) relocate it safely outside.

  18. chrislawson says

    @11– what you’re describing is a secondary effect of taking an antibiotic to treat an infection. Despite the way the BBC worded it, antibiotics are never prescribed for the purpose of reducing swelling.

  19. chrislawson says

    @3– it’s a bit rough to criticise the medical care based on one attention-seeking idiot’s garbled version of events.

  20. wzrd1 says

    Well, I am aware of one incident that I witnessed the injury from and reports of a second similar incident a couple of years later of widow bites in field latrines.
    I’d have discounted them as just rumors, save being a witness to the injury at the time. Webs in the opening of a field latrine of non-native widow spiders that “took a ride” with transiting units and as I mentioned, witnessed scrotal injury in one soldier. Given the tens of thousands of soldiers using that base per year, suffice it to say that such incidents are vanishingly rare, about as rare as actually seeing brown recluse spiders at that base, which I did. Neither species surviving winter, but on rare occasions witnessed.
    I figured then, as now, I stand a better chance than being bitten by such an ill relocated spider, of witnessing whatever a spider-pig does. That’s even lower of a chance now, as said latrines were closed not long after and replaced by porta-potty units, which were much cheaper to maintain.
    So, long gone is the stunt of lighting a wad of toilet paper on a floating less flammable item and allowing it to float down the ranks…*
    Actually witnessed in military field latrines, plywood bench seating of such proximity that one could trivially read a seatmate’s newspaper. State park field latrines some two meters or so deep with rather tall excrement piles within and snakes merrily wending their way through for reasons I never cared to explore.**

    *An old stunt shown in a WWII era film. Where such a flowing latrine could exist is beyond my ken.

    **Yeah, snakes living inside of the cesspool, not concerned as they were two meters and change down and any snake capable of leaping that far vertically to go for anything, well, they’re welcome to anything that they wanted. I’ll not challenge an antigravity snake.

  21. dbarkdog says

    I went to the CNN site to read the about the death of Henry K, and what should I see but this very story as one of the clickbait links.

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