A newly discovered species of tarantula is poisonous, can swim underwater and has overrun the Australian town of Maningrida. Time for another killer spider movie?
In 2006, schoolchildren on a field trip in Maningrida, a town 310 miles (500 km) east of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory, found a spider that spider experts had never seen before . It’s a type of diving tarantula that avoid drowning in the floods of the rainy season by creating its own air bubbles. Once the waters dry up, anything else going after these tarantulas has to deal with their long fangs, which can deliver venom capable of killing rodents and other small animals and give humans nausea and vomiting.
Are you scared yet? It gets worse. There’s 25,000 of these toxic tarantulas in Maningrida, an indigenous town with only 2,000 residents on a 6 mile floodplain in the Arnhem Land. That’s over 12 fanged flesh-tearing tarantulas per person.
While the locals are concerned, arachnologists like Dr. Robert Raven, head of Queensland Museum’s arachnological division, are thrilled. Raven has named more than 400 spiders in his 40-year career but says he’s never seen a concentration of tarantulas like Maningrida’s, which he described as “off the scale” and “unbelievable.” Here’s his theory on the large numbers:
Presumably, something is missing that would hammer them or there is something good [like a food source]. It’s one of the beauties of science, being able to say ‘I don’t know.’
Dr. Raven would like to study the Maningria tarantula and its venom for medicinal purposes, but recognizes that it belongs to the Kunibídji people who own the land. A partnership could bring them needed resources while protecting them and the spiders.
Raven says he’ll leave the study of these tarantulas to younger researchers who can outrun the local buffaloes and wild pigs. In the meantime, he’s working on naming the spider.
And I’m working on a title for the movie. Diving Tarantulas of Death! Australian Arach Attack! The Town that Toxic Tarantulas Took!!!