When the first stuffed specimens of the duck-billed platypus arrived in Europe, many biologists were certain that those wacky Australians had to be hoaxing them, the nineteenth-century version of a rick roll. The English zoologist George Shaw was so skeptical he even cut one apart looking for stitches.
And can you blame them? This thing looks like something Warner Brothers cartoonists might have cooked up after a night of speedballs and hookers.
In the age of Facebook, e-mail and Photoshop, hoaxes are even easier to pull off and are foisted on us at a dizzying pace. From black-market kidney thieves to a check from Bill Gates to photos of the latest celebrity death, we are confronted with a daily fecolith that even Arthur C Clarke could not have predicted.
So I was more than a little skeptical the first time I saw a picture of a spider with the scientific name Theridion grallator, popularly known as the happy face spider. “C’mon…really Internet? I’m not falling for that,” I said in my best bored/jaded voice. No online prankster would get the best of me.
But it is true. Found only on four of the Hawaiian Islands, the spider is about five millimeters long on average and looks like every “Have a Nice Day” t-shirt you’ve ever seen. Long before Harvey Ball created the iconic black-on-yellow smiley face, nature had beaten him to the punch. Is God just messing with us? Of course. How else do you explain a Sixties insurance marketing gimmick on the back of a freakin’ spider?
Then again, with the often undeserved bad reputation that arachnids have, maybe they do need their own goodwill ambassador.