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Spider swarm attack in India questioned by experts

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Did a swarm of spiders attack residents in an Indian town? (Jim Urquhart/AP)

Rest easy arachnophobes, a recently reported attack by a swarm of tarantula-like spiders is probably no more reputable than the 1977 William Shatner clunker, "Kingdom of the Spiders."

The Times of India reported over the weekend that a swarm of aggressive spiders attacked dozens of people in the remote Indian town of Sadiya, killing two residents. One resident, Jintu Gogoi, told The Times that his finger was "black and swollen" after being bit by one of the spiders.

The alleged attack, which was said to have occurred during a local festival, has been reported by a number of national news organizations, leading to speculation about whether a "new" species of spider could be responsible for the bites.

However, CNN reports that spider experts are placing doubt on the claims made by the paper.

"The evidence that we gathered does not support the claim that they died after being bitten by spiders," said LR Saikia, who led a team of researchers from Dibrugarh University, to investigate the town's claims. Saikia said that one of the victims might have actually died from snakebite, while the other alleged victim, a teenage boy, might not have been bitten at all.

The original report in The Times certainly seems questionable, with vivid descriptions that read straight out of a low-budget horror movie:

"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," the article reads.

Saikia said that a dozen people have recently visited local hospitals complaining of spider bites but that only two of the complaints have been confirmed.

"Only two of them were confirmed bitten by spiders. But they were ordinary spiders," Saikia said.

About 20 spiders were captured and given to Saikia and his team. Local tarantulas are not believed to have venom lethal to humans but the researchers are still performing tests on about five of the spiders. Nonetheless, Saikia said there's no evidence to support the "spider swarm" claims.

"This is just a story," he said, "based on rumors."

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