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No, family of six didn’t die from drinking kettle water containing violin spider

A Facebook post shared in South Africa warns people to re-rinse their kettles every morning because deadly spiders might be lurking in them.

“A family of 6 was found dead and a research was made that a deadly spider was found inside the kettle of which they drank tea from,” it says.

“Due to the good rain and hot climate the Violin Spider is moving into houses. Please take note of this spider - it is very dangerous.”

Are deadly violin spiders hiding in your kettle, ready to kill? We checked.

Violin spiders bite, but no deaths reported

According to the South African Agricultural Research Council, violin spiders “usually live in grassland and in caves with only one species introduced into houses” in Gauteng province.

Violin spiders are active at night, when they may find their way into clothing and shoes, the institute says.

They are venomous they bite their victims to inject a toxin, or poison. “To date no antivenom has been produced, and although no death has been reported in Southern Africa, plastic surgery is sometimes necessary to repair tissue damage,” the ARC says.

Violin spiders are usually brown or reddish brown in colour. They have characteristic violin-shaped markings and are often confused with daddy-longlegs, which are not venomous.

‘Hoax’ and ‘old myth’

Johan Marais from the African Snakebite Institute, told Africa Check the Facebook post repeats an “old myth”.

He said no deaths from spider bites had been recorded in South Africa.

Arina du Plessis of the Tygerberg Poison Information Centre in Cape Town told us “this is a hoax that had been spread many times in the past”.

She said the spider’s toxin could only be introduced to the body “if a person gets bitten by a violin spider”.

Venom has to be injected by bite or sting

Spiders are venomous, not poisonous. This means their toxin is transmitted by a bite or sting. Poisonous organisms, on the other hand, “unload toxins when you eat them”, as Britannica says.

So it’s very unlikely that six people could have died from drinking boiled water containing a violin spider (and its toxins). The spider would have had to bite the victims to have any effect on them.

The University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation says the toxins from venomous creatures are generally not toxic if swallowed, and “must be injected under the skin into the tissues that are normally protected by skin in order to be toxic”.

But they do say it’s probably not a good idea to drink venom.

Africa Check could also find no news report of six people dying after drinking water from a kettle contaminated by a violin spider. A tragedy like that would have been widely covered in the media. – Taryn Willows

Further reading:

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