Description: Viral image / Hoax
Circulating since: Dec. 2012
Update: Early Summer Threatens UK with Volat-Araneus (The Flying Spider) - A humorous March 2014 revamp of the winged spider hoax that subjects readers to a double dose of trickery.
Analysis: The very notion that spiders might take wing and attack from the air must give give nightmares to arachnophobes, but if you are one of those so afflicted you can rest easy in this instance because the image is bogus, as is the caption. No such discovery was made. No such critter is known to exist.
The fake image was created by doctoring an actual photo of a common fishing spider (Dolomedes sp.) found on this website: North Carolina Spider Photos. The original is credited to Will Cook of Duke University.
While the alleged discovery is a hoax, be aware that there is such a thing as a "winged spider" (scientific name Araneus albotriangulus, more commonly known as an orb weaver spider), but don't panic. Its so-called "wings" are just decorative markings. It can't fly.
I regret to report that it isn't strictly accurate to say that spiders never fly, however. There's a documented phenomenon known as "ballooning" wherein some smaller arachnid species use strands of their own silk to glide long distances through the air on breezy days — sometimes hundreds of miles.
I just thought you should know.
Sources and further reading:
'Scientists Discover Winged Spider!' What a Headline! And What a Picture!
Insect House, 9 January 2013
North Carolina Spider Photos
Carolina Nature, 21 April 2013
Dolomedes Sp. - Fishing Spider
Florida Nature, 13 May 2002
Winged Spider - Araneus Albotriangulus
Brisbane Insects and Spiders, 18 March 2010
Leap Forward for 'Flying' Spiders
BBC News, 12 July 2006
Last updated 03/11/14