Saturday, February 13, 2016

Another Viral Internet "Monster"

Anyone on Facebook or other social media outlet has probably seen the latest in creepy-crawly videos, a creature purported to be a giant spider. The truth is, as usual, more fascinating and less disturbing. The horror part comes from the fact it is yet another example of a stolen video taking on a life of its own.

The creature in the video is not a spider at all, but a different kind of arachnid called an amblypygid or "tailless whip scorpion." One of my friends from Facebook, Laura Lee Paxson, tracked down the species as Euphrynichus amanica. It ranges in Kenya and Tanzania in east Africa. This animal, and its more widespread sister species E. bacillifer, are available in the "hobby" trade and as a result much of the information and "fright factor" is emanating from that community. It is important to note that responsible pet trade personnel are shedding a good deal of light on the biology of such poorly-known species.

The gentleman who generated the viral video is Adrian Kozakiewicz, an 18-year old in Germany (originally from Poland) who has earned an esteemed reputation in the international arthropod-breeder community. Unfortunately, unscrupulous hacks have taken his innocent intentions and re-published the video with false information and needless scare tactics.

Tailless whipscorpions belong to the arachnid order Amblypygi. They are not venomous, or dangerous in any way. They are overwhelmingly tropical in their geographic distribution. Most are found inside caves, under bark on trees, and in cracks and crevices on cliff faces from which they emerge at night to hunt other invertebrates. The front pair of legs are modified into exceptionally long, antenna-like sensory appendages used to detect both prey and potential predators. Fine hairs (setae) on the whip-like legs sense the slightest changes in air currents, directing the animal toward prey, or the nearest hiding place.

The spine-tipped "arms" are actually the arachnid's palps, akin to a scorpion's pincers, modified for grabbing or pinning prey. The video shows the amblypygid lashing out at Adrian, but the intended effect is to merely rebuff the perceived threat. Animal rights activists may see this as "taunting" a poor animal, but it is a brief and instructional demonstration of the animal's behavior, too.

Like wolf spiders, scorpions, and vinegaroons, amblypygids exhibit some degree of parental care after the young are born and before their first molt.

Should some version of this video other than the original show up in your social media, please do not share it, and do what you can to acknowledge Adrian in any comments. You might also wish to report the post to discourage future bad behavior and interrupt the viral nature of stolen material. Thank you.

Sources: Anonymous. 2016. "This Young Entrepreneur Owns a Place Among the Largest Invertebrates Breeders in Europe," Viral Subjects
Polden, Jake. 2016. "Why would you want to poke THAT? Insect breeder taunts freaky-looking whip spider....and gets bit multiple times," Daily Mail.
Schramm, F. 2011. "Euphrynichus bacillifer (Gerstaeker, 1873)," Panarthropoda.de.

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