Giant Spiders Released from DNA Lab in Missouri? No, It' a Hoax!

Mutant "spiders" are supposedly the result of DNA experiments in Missouri

Spiders have been released from a DNA Laboratory
Viral images via Facebook

Description: Viral images / Text
Circulating since: Sep. 2014
Status: False

Thank you, social media! Today I learned on Facebook that giant mutant spiders, allegedly the result of secret DNA experiments conducted in a government laboratory in rural Missouri, are now reproducing in the wild and are believed to be endangering the safety of nearby towns and cities.

The evidence? A pair of viral images showing huge, six-legged, creepy-crawly critters scrabbling up a palm tree and threatening small animals.

Never mind that palm trees don't grow in Missouri and spiders have eight legs, not six. These things are really scary!

Text example:
As shared on Facebook, Sep. 12, 2014:

RIGHT HERE IN MO !

SPIDERS HAVE BEEN RELEASED FROM A DNA LABORATORY LOCATED NEAR THE WOLF SANCTUARY ON ANTIRE RD !

"Government testing on DNA has produced these spiders in a Laboratory in Missouri. Unfortunately they have been located off Lewis Rd just west of laboratory and seem to be breading in the wild much faster than when captive."

"Government officials are doing all they can to try to eliminate these spiders but can offer no guarantees. They could be popping up in surrounding neighborhoods west of the siting (Eureka, Pacific, Union, and St. Clair) within weeks."

What we have in our favor is that winter is approaching and hope to slow down the migration no further than St. Clair before the cold hits."

"If you see these stay indoors and call the local police. They have been informed on procedures of capture and contact of the local governing agency."


Analysis: Welcome to the Internet, you've been pranked! Though the photos above are authentic, they do not depict any known species of spider (as mentioned above, spiders have eight legs, not six), but rather a species of arthropod native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans known as the coconut crab or robber crab (Birgus latro).

It is, in fact, the largest land-living arthropod, weighing up to 10 pounds and measuring as much as 3 feet wide from leg tip to leg tip. They climb palm trees and, as the name suggests, feed on coconuts, though adult specimens are omnivorous and also scavenge for fruit, rotting vegetation, and carrion. Coconut crabs are nocturnal animals and typically hide in burrows during daylight hours.

Unfortunately for them, the meat of coconut crabs apparently tastes not unlike lobster and is considered a delicacy, not only by humans who live near their native habitats but by rats and wild pigs as well. They are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as an endangered species.

As to the origin of the photos, I was able to trace one them (of the tree-climbing specimen) to a July 2009 post by a blogger named Angelo Villagomez, who wrote that took it during a visit to Agrigan, a Pacific island just south of Guam. The image showing a pair of coconut crabs lurking in perilous proximity to a small dog has appeared previously (and accurately labeled) on Reddit.com.

Sources and further reading:

What Do We Know About Coconut Crabs?
University of Hawaii

Photos of Giant Coconut Crab
About.com: Urban Legends, 11 March 2009

The Coconut Crab
Island Conservation

The Coconut Crab in Guam
Expeditions (a Scientific American blog), 16 May 2012

Giant Coconut Crabs
The Saipan Blog, 31 July 2009

Last updated 09/15/14