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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Return of the Scalp-Eating, Braid-Inhabiting Spiders!

by Ken Newquist / February 20, 2002

They lurk, deep beneath your hair, nesting close to your scalp, waiting patiently to hatch and wreak destruction upon the landscape of your head. No, they're not head lice. Or fleas. Or ticks. They're spiders ... swarming, nasty, black spiders and they're going to devour your skull!

Or not.

The 'bugs in the hair-do' urban legend has been around for decades. According to snopes.com, variations of it can be tracked back to the 1950s. In those days, the Beav's mom had to watch out for bees which would infest, you guessed it, her beehive hairdo.

Decades later, the pesky bugs are at it again, this time attacking braids. This variation of the urban legend seems to target African-Americans, but, of course, anyone who's children wear braids is at risk ... or so we're told.

Here's the original e-mail:

Date Collected: May 9, 2000

Subject: FW: Braids
This is a really sad and disgusting story for two reasons:

1) The mother didn't pay any attention to her child who had complained about her head hurting for two weeks.

2) We are getting so caught up in doing things to our hair that is quick, fast, and in a hurry, that we forget we still need to take care of ourselves and our children.

I am so sorry this happened to this little girl and I pray that by passing this e-mail it or something similar will not happen to anyone else.

Something terrible happened to a 10 yr. old girl who had braids. The little girl had been wearing her braids in a ponytail for the longest and apparently the braids were old, at least 2 to 3 months old, and the mother never took them down let them air out or anything.

Anyway, the girl had been complaining about having a headache for approximately two weeks to her mother who just brushed it off, assuming that she had hit her head against something. Well one morning the child again complained to her mother about having a headache while getting ready for school, again the mother brushed her off. When the child got to school, she told her teacher that her head was hurting.

The teacher assumed that the braids were too tight in the child's hair and attempted to let the ponytail down. When she removed the hair piece and let the braids loose, there was a spider in the child's hair. The spider had laid eggs in the child's hair and the spiders were eating her scalp. The child was rushed to the hospital were she later died.

This happened in Monroe, La. It was all over the news and in the papers for about a week or two.

Please, parents, don't leave braids,or any kind of hair extensions in childrens' or your own hair without washing it or letting it air out any more than 6 weeks.

The National Council of Negro Women

University of Kansas Chapter

"Where African-American Women Get Things Done!"

Visit the website at

http://www.ukans.edu/~ncnw

Wendy Wilson

Ok, call me a party-pooper, but I figured I'd ask a spider guy if spiders could actually do this. And you know what?

They can't.

Rick Vetter knows spiders -- he's a researcher in the Department of Entomology at the University of California-Riverside. And here's what he had to say on the subject (and I'm quoting him outright so that there's no confusion):

"I can't tell you where this thing started but as an arachnologist, I can tell you what is wrong about the story. If a spider laid an eggsac in a person hair, it would take about a 2 weeks before the eggs hatch out and then the spiderlings undergo a molt inside the eggsac before emerging which happens in another 2 weeks. So a person would have to have an eggsac in her hair for a minimum of 4 weeks before any spiderlings would emerge."

"Secondly, the activity described is one of a parasite feeding on a large host. No spider does this. Spiders subdue things up to about 70% of their body size. They do not attempt to take on large creatures although sometimes can haul in a grasshopper or large cricket but they do not live on a mammal sucking its body fluids."

"This does sound like a nice scenario for a tick but even so, ticks feed for a few days and then drop off. I don't think any of them will do 2 to 3 weeks on humans. They can cause paralysis but the onset is very quick, the person, usually a child, can't walk and if you brush hair and remove the tick, they get well miraculously, sometimes in 24 hours."

So, there you have it. Still don't believe me? There's a few other signs that this is a hoax. Here's the deal:

  • Where's the news? This is gross. Really gross. And tragic. And if something like this really happened in Monroe, La., do you honestly believe we would not have heard about it on television? The main stream press loves bizarre death stories, and if they'll carry stories about health threats to dogs (as my local Fox affiliate did recently), then they'd do one about killer hairdos.
  • Where's the warning on the site? At one point, the e-mail sent readers to a valid web page -- which is surprising for hoax -- but the destination sheds no light on the epidemic. The page has since gone missing.
  • It's not original: This is a new spin on an old, established urban legend, the aforementioned 'bees in the beehine hairdo' myth. The current version of the myth has a long history, which is extensively documented at snopes.com and in numerous other sources.

And finally, you can check out these other sources:

  • Snopes.com: The site debunks the entire "insects-in-hair-do" myth. Worth checking out for a little history.
  • About.com Urban Legends Guide This debunking tracks the hoax's possible origin to the 13th century!