While digging, he accidentally uncovered an ancient coin.
He had heard stories of people becoming rich by digging up ancient Chinese coins and selling them. Now this was happening to him. He was thrilled with his good luck and anticipated that he would reap a large fortune.
He calmed down and began to dig more slowly and carefully. Just as he was about to dig the coin out, the coin moved and frightened him.
Once the coin was uncovered, he could “see its true face”. He did not know whether to laugh or cry.
He was stunned that the object was not a coin at all but rather a living thing. He described it as a “scary and extremely ugly-looking spider”.
In China, however, it is better known as a “Money Trapdoor Spider” (金钱活板门蛛) or “Money Living-Door Spider” (金钱活门蛛). Another common name is the “Severed Abdomen Spider” (截腹蛛).
Nevertheless, the villager was saddened that he would not be making a fortune from his “coin”.
Sichuan is the farthest north this species has been recorded. There is still much to learn about these spiders since it was previously believed that the species could not survive in areas where temperatures could drop below 13 degrees Celsius. Winters in Sichuan can get even colder.
The males are about 2.5 cm in length and the females are slightly larger at about 2.7 cm. The largest can exceed 3 cm. The disk has a radius of about 1.6 cm.
Mr. Zhao Li (赵力), the Director and Senior Biological Engineer at the Insect Museum of West China (华希昆虫博物馆) located in Chengdu (成都), says in another article that the money trapdoor spider fits the description of a type of arachnid mentioned in an ancient Chinese text known as the Erya 《尔雅》. The Erya is believed to be the oldest extant Chinese dictionary and dates to the fifth century BC.
References to what is likely the trapdoor spider can also be found in ancient texts on Chinese medicine. For example, the “Supplement to the Materia Medica” (Bencao Shiyi 《本草拾遗》) by Tang dynasty pharmacologist Chen Cangqi (陈藏器) written in 739 AD states that “the diedang (螲蟷 a species of spider living in underground burrows) is found everywhere……it resembles a spider….a hole in the ground is the nest and on top of the hole is a cover.” The diedang can be used to treat “boils, gangrene and other sores, sarcoma (malignant tumor), …”.
Mr. Zhao says money trapdoor spiders are very rare and there have been only eight sightings in China since the year 2000.
Because of their rarity, these spiders bring a high price as pets. Most of the “money trapdoor spiders”, as they are called in the pet market, are artificially bred in Thailand. One spider can sell for as much as $3,860 (RMB 25,000).
Mr. Zhao explained that the spider rests during the day and comes out at night.
Money trapdoor spiders do not build webs. They dig burrows in the ground and line it with silk threads and mud.
Mr. Zhao is seen holding such a silk-lined burrow in the image at left.
The spider can protect itself by blocking the entrance to the burrow using its hard “coin” as a shield.
Another article explains that “the money trapdoor spider is not good at spinning silk and weaving webs in the air so it uses its weird butt to plug the opening of the burrow. Because its ‘copper coin’ is relatively hard, it can protect itself well. When a small insect steps on its ‘copper coin’, the spider will shrink its abdomen allowing the small insect to fall into the burrow and be eaten. The ‘coin’ makes it difficult for the insect to escape. When faced with a non-threatening insect, the spider can just get out of the hole and grab it”.
Even though the villager was frightened and disappointed that he was not lucky enough to find buried treasure, the spider is nevertheless considered an auspicious symbol in China.
The reason is that one of the Chinese words for “spider” is chongxizi (虫喜子). The chong (虫) means “insect”, the xi (喜) means “happy” and the zi (子) means “son”. The Chinese like puns. If you say “spider” (chong xi zi) you are at the same time saying the word “happy” (xi) as well as “happy son” (xizi).
According to Chinese law, the government owns everything of value in the ground, in the rivers and within the country’s territorial waters. This means that even if the villager had discovered an ancient coin or other buried treasure, all could have been legally confiscated by the state.
However, these laws would not apply to an insect and the villager could probably have sold the spider for more money than many rare Chinese coins.
The newspaper article, unfortunately, does not say what the villager decided to do with his “scary and extremely ugly-looking spider”.