Oh, no! An Australian town has been terrorised by giant, venomous spiders.
Newspapers all around the world are recounting the ordeal of the town of Bowen, Queensland – the town recently made famous by Baz Luhrmann’s film Australia – with perhaps a little more relish than is strictly necessary:
“Super-sized tarantulas are spinning a web of terror in a town in Australia.” (Sky News) “Locals have been shocked by the size of the giant venomous spiders that have invaded an Outback town in Queensland” (The Times, Fox News) “It sounds like a remake of the campy horror movie, Eight Legged Freaks. But this is scarier, because it’s really happening” (Los Angeles Times) …and many more.
So, what’s going on out there? The species concerned is the eastern tarantula Phlogius crassipes, known as the eastern tarantula or whistling spider, and is the largest spider in Australia. The spiders whistle or make a hissing sound when aggravated, and can be heard about two metres away. As regular readers will be aware, it’s not uncommon for newspaper ‘scary spider’ stories to be rather stronger on the shock-spider-horror than they are on the facts. But this one sounds pretty serious, right? Well, let’s go to the Townsville Bulletin, the local newspaper covering Bowen. Even they can’t resist starting their story in the normal style:
“For weeks, residents of Bowen have been scared witless by the sight of bird-eating spiders, the size of a man’s hand, crawling through backyards and gardens.”
It goes on to mention the excitement that the story has caused, “Bowen Amalgamated Pest Controller pest technician Audy Geiszler’s phone has not stopped ringing with calls from the world’s media”. But what does Mr Geiszler say about it himself? The Townsville Bulletin, reluctant to kill their biggest story for years, nevertheless is honest enough to give him the last say:
Mr Geiszler said “[The newspapers] were obviously looking at the sensational side of it, but I basically set them straight that it wasn’t thousands of the things crawling around attacking people or anything like that, there were just a few that had been sighted.”
The Brisbane Times even subsequently led with a peevish story headlined “Web of lies: UK press plays up spider ‘invasion'”. It interviewed the garrulous Mr Geiszler who, showing no sign of media fatigue, managed to extend the story even further by telling The Brisbane Times it had been “blown out of all proportion and massively sensationalised.”
“There have been no more than 10 sightings of these spiders here,” Mr Geiszler said. “There is definitely not an invasion or a plague or anything like that”.
Yep, stand down folks. There are ‘just a few’ of these things. In fact, despite the quotes universally ascribing ‘terror’ or ‘horror’ to the locals, none of them seem to exhibit any such emotion. Maybe outback Australians are as pragmatic when it comes to spiders as they famously are about everything else. And although the spiders are indeed quite big, and will bite, they haven’t actually harmed anyone so far. Well, I think we can assume they haven’t, or goodness knows what headlines we’d have to contend with.