Trivia 064: I’ve been itching to write this one.

Happy April Fool’s Day, everyone. I do hope that none of you fall for any clever schemes this year. And don’t worry, you can trust me that this post is not going to be a trick. In fact, some of you may remember this piece of trivia from when I was running a daily trivia question a few years ago. However, as is sometimes the case, reexamining what I thought was some fairly simple trivia has revealed that all may not be quite as it seems.

There are all sorts of classic pranks that most people are familiar with – whoopee cushions, stink bombs, joy buzzers, etc. But I think that, while people are aware of these practical jokes as being things you can buy, it’s been my experience that very few people actually choose to spend their money on these things. One example of a product you may find in a joke store is itching powder. Now, I sincerely hope that none of you have ever had the misfortune to be pranked with itching powder. If getting glitter bombed is annoying, at least it does not cause you to become furiously itchy.

Itching powder can be made out of a variety of substances, but the primary ingredient is typically plant fibers. Specifically, short, small, prickly fibers can cause irritation when they come into contact with the skin. Some common sources inclue rose hips and maple and legume seed pods. Fiberglass shards can also be used, but these can pose a more serious health risk than just itching.

Another, more interesting source of these sorts of fibers are the urticating hairs of a tarantula. Specific to tarantulas found in the western hemisphere, These hairs are a defensive mechanism for the tarantula. When threatened, a tarantula will rub their hind legs against their body, ejecting a cloud of hairs towards the threat. When it comes into contact with the skin, effects can range from irritation to painful rashes, depending on the species. This is due to the chemicals on the hairs, as well as the physical properties of the hairs themselves. With smaller mammals, if the hair gets caught in the mucous membranes, it can cause swelling which can even lead to death.

Now I had thought that this is where the trivia post would end. I would explain that itching powder sold in stores used to be made from tarantula hair. However, being a responsible writer and researcher, I always want to include a source with my statements. So I started looking up information about tarantula hair used in itching powder. And I came up blank. After doing more searching than I thought I’d have to do on this topic, I have been unable to find any good source for this. I found several articles (like this one) which state “Tarantula hair was once used as an actual ingredient in itching powder”, as if it is simply a matter of fact. But these articles all just mention it in passing, and none of them back it up with any kind of source or further information.

So unfortunately today, I cannot with confidence say that the trivia I initially sought to share with you is legitimate. But perhaps that is a good thing for a post being made on April Fool’s Day. It seems to be a fairly commonly held statement that tarantula hair was used to make itching powder. But at this point, I cannot back that up with anything other than hearsay. Perhaps I will do some more research on this. If I find anything more on the topic, I shall update this post accordingly.

In the meantime, I hope that all of you remember to be wary with what you read on the internet, not just today, but always. Maintain a healthy level of skepticism (not too much, not too little), and always check your sources.

If you know anyone who would like to receive these, please have them send an email to [email protected]. And if you still think this is all just an elaborate prank, let me know and I can take you off the list.

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