© The Economic Times, India
Swarms of spiders suddenly descended from nowhere and started biting the people around Sadiya town in Upper Assam.
Jintu Gogoi's neighbourhood in Sadiya, Upper Assam, is no longer friendly. Over two weeks ago, an army of eight-legged freaks invaded it. It all happened in the evening on May 8. Most of the inhabitants of Chaulkhowa Nagaon village had been to a Bihu function. When the programme drew to a close, swarms of spiders suddenly descended from nowhere and started biting the people. The festive mood soon turned into one of panic with people bumping into each other and tripping over empty benches in their frantic bid to egress. Jintu was bitten by one of these critters.
It all sounded like a scene from a Hollywood horror flick, but as Jintu showed his blackened, swollen finger, to TOI,
it became clear that it was not some elaborate hoax created by some mischief-monger, it was something that happened for real. But the panic it triggered could have been certainly avoided had there been enough awareness among laymen and mandarins about arachnids.
Jintu spent a day at the Sadiya Civil Hospital after he complained of excruciating pain and nausea. When he returned home, he had more terrifying stories to tell. Terror was still writ large on his face even two weeks after the incident, but he thanked his stars for being alive. His neighbour, Purnakanta Buragohain, was not that lucky. He died in the hospital after a spider allegedly bit him.
The events that unfolded in the next few days left everyone baffled. Scores of people arrived in the Sadiya civil hospital with spider bites, some even carrying their tormentors to the hospital. Amid all this, another person, this time a schoolboy, died of an alleged spider bite. And the district administration panicked. They sounded an alert across Tinsukia district and asked people to stay indoors at night-the time the unknown critters would swarm all over the place. They talked about fogging the place with DDT to kill the arachnids but couldn't find any effective solution. What's worse: they even let the two bodies to be cremated without conducting any autopsy. Yet the spider menace continued. None had any answer as to what kind of a spider it was and how it made such a sudden appearance.
Then on May 22, a team of life scientists from Dibrugarh University and Gauhati University arrived in Sadiya. Led by Dr L R Saikia, head, Department of Life Sciences, Dibrugarh University, the team camped in the trouble spot for two days and nights and collected specimens. "As of now, we cannot give a specific name. It's similar to the tarantula, but it could be a whole new species. There aren't any arachnologists in the northeast, so it will take us a while to identify it. But whatever the species, it is a highly aggressive spider. It leaps at anything that comes close. Some of the victims claimed the spider latched onto them after biting. If that is so, it needs to be dealt with carefully. The chelicerae and fangs of this critter are quite powerful; but it's too early to declare it a killer spider. In fact, we are yet to test its venom and find out the toxicity," says Dr Saikia.