A Farmer Thought He’d Found An Ancient Relic, But Then He Realized It Was The Rarest Of Spiders

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When Li Wenhua stepped into his orange orchard one November morning in 2016, it was unlikely that he expected anything other than a fairly routine day at work. The Chinese farmer lives just outside of Chengdu, in Southwest China, where the humid air can make winters unpleasantly cold. However, he was in store for more than bad weather that day.

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Li was an ordinary farmer. His is one of the most prevalent surnames in China, second only to Wang, and it’s shared by over 100 million people worldwide. But while it was the surname of the emperors during the illustrious Tang Dynasty, Li himself couldn’t lay claim to any royal blood.

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With Li being a citrus farmer, his thoughts were likely focused on trying to ensure a strong orange crop. That year, orchards throughout China had been hit by citrus greening disease, reducing their expected yields. But as he walked through his orchard, he moved closer to discovering something that would improve his fortunes regardless of the health of his trees.

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In fact, though, the health of trees generally isn’t much of a concern in Pujiang County, the area in which Li lives. Often referred to as “the garden of Chengdu,” Pujiang is a place more than 50 percent of which is covered in trees. But while this creates a rich and fertile ecosystem, it’s unlikely that Li was expecting to find something so exotic – or potentially valuable.

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More than 40 million people in China survive on an annual income of less than $350 apiece. In addition, around 500 million of the nation’s inhabitants each have to live on a daily income of below $5.50. Given such poverty, what Li was about to find would likely be a big deal for most Chinese people.

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While busy at work on the orange farm, Li saw what looked like an unusual object sitting just in front of him. It was unlike anything he’d ever stumbled upon while walking through his orchard. The presumed object didn’t quite fit in with the brown soil, the green grass or the orange of his fruit. Indeed, it seemed to Li to be manmade.

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The farmer initially believed that it was some type of cultural artefact – perhaps a pendant or medallion that had been lost centuries before. So as he moved closer towards it, he quite possibly thought that he might have something valuable on his hands.

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Li’s assumption that the object was a historical artefact seemed credible. Pujiang County’s roots go back almost 2,500 years, when it was created after the Shu Kingdom had been conquered by the Qin Kingdom. So, it was possible that Li was looking at an ornament or coin that was more than two millennia old.

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However, just when Li had come to the conclusion that he’d found a long-lost manmade object from which he could potentially make some money, his discovery… moved. The farmer suddenly saw a body in motion and realized that the supposed object was alive. It was, in fact, a spider – albeit the strangest spider that he’d ever seen.

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Spiders are fairly common in Pujiang County and in China as a whole. There are more than 3,000 species of spider in the country, including two types of tarantula – the golden earth tiger and the Chinese bird spider.

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Meanwhile, after getting over his initial shock, Li subsequently carried the spider home with him in a plastic bottle. And once his neighbors had heard about what he’d discovered, they rushed over to his house to see the strange specimen for themselves. He then scoured the internet for info on the creature and was taken aback by what he read.

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It was called a “Chinese hourglass spider” – a species that was perhaps once feared to be extinct. Since 2000 it had been sighted on just five other occasions, meaning it was an extremely rare creature. First recorded during the 5th century BC, the spider is distinguished by the hard, flattened disc that ends its large abdomen.

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The book in which it was first recorded, meanwhile, is Erya. The oldest known Chinese dictionary, the tome’s 15th chapter contains an account of a creature that closely resembles the Chinese hourglass spider. So while Li hadn’t exactly found an ancient relic, he had discovered something that has a long ancestry.

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As the spider’s name suggests, its lower abdomen is shaped like one half of an hourglass. Unlike many hourglasses, though, the abdomen is a muddy brown, allowing the spider to blend in with its surroundings. The only exception to this camouflaged coloration is the disc, which caps the bottom of the abdomen – and which led Li to believe that he’d found an antique.

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Another more generic name for the creature that Li found is “trapdoor spider.” This name derives from the fact that the animal lives in an underground burrow. It uses its hard abdominal disc to close the burrow’s entrance and to protect itself from predators and the elements.

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The Chinese name for the hourglass spider is “li shi pan fu zhu,” and its Latin-derived scientific name is Cyclocosmia ricketti. “The spider is of extreme scientific value,” entomologist Zhao Li told People’s Daily. “And it is definitely a rare species in Sichuan province.”

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Li’s discovery was made even more remarkable by the fact that the hourglass spider is usually found in Zhejiang and Fujian provinces rather than Sichuan. And although it was known that the creatures can tolerate temperatures as cold as 55 °F, the winters in Sichuan tend to be far colder. Li’s find had therefore helped to advance our understanding of the spider.

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Meanwhile, as peculiar and even frightening as the Chinese hourglass spider might appear on first sight, some people nonetheless keep spiders of the same Cyclocosmia genus as pets. This is possible thanks to the spider’s calm temperament, although its rarity and strangeness also make it attractive. But Li had no intentions of buying a spider tank for his mantelpiece.

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On average, the female of the species has a disc with a diameter of half an inch and is just over an inch long. But even if the size of the spider’s body is modest, its market value certainly isn’t.

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Li discovered that the spider can sell for around 12,000 Yuan (RMB), which is equivalent to about $1,900. And having learned this, he decided to trade the spider to someone looking for a new pet – which is likely to secure him a sum of money greater than what millions of Chinese people earn in a single year.

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As you would expect, Li isn’t the only farmer to have stumbled across an incredible creature on his land. Take this Argentinian farmer called Edgardo, for instance, who found an injured baby condor. After spending months caring for the bird, then, he never could have guessed what would happen shortly after he’d released it into the wild.

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When an Argentinian farmer named Edgardo found an injured baby condor on his land, he decided to nurse the creature back to health. And, heartwarmingly, the rancher did all that he could to ensure the bird would thrive in the wild. Little did he know, though, that the condor would eventually return.

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The Andean condor is the biggest flying bird on the planet when its wingspan and weight are both taken into account. And as the vulture’s name suggests, it can typically be seen in the Andes mountain range – although it is also known to dwell along the western Pacific coast of South America. In many countries on the continent, then, the Andean condor serves as a national emblem.

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Yet while the bird may be revered across South America, its prestigious status hasn’t prevented it from potential extinction. Indeed, both habitat loss and, as a side effect of hunting, secondary poisoning are named as major threats to the scavenger’s existence. And unfortunately, the Andean condor is now deemed as “near threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

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When it comes to protecting the future of the Andean condor, then, every single life matters. And perhaps as a result of this knowledge, when a ranger called Edgardo found an injured young condor on the balcony of his home in Loncopué, Argentina, he took it upon himself to nurse the bird back to health.

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What’s more, while the condor in question had an injured leg, his ailment was thankfully not life-threatening. It was also believed that the bird may have somehow become separated from his parents. In the wild, you see, young condors usually stay with their moms and dads until they reach two years old.

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And since Edgardo’s condor was estimated to be only five months old, he wasn’t ready to go it alone in the world. So, the farmer christened the bird “Condorito” and dedicated himself to rehabilitating his charge, ready for release.

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Luckily, though, Edgardo had previously cared for two condors, and so he knew that looking after Condorito would require a careful balance of supervision and restraint. After all, while assisting the bird in his recovery was vital, too much human contact could have endangered Condorito after his release.

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For months, then, Edgardo nursed Condorito in his return to health while keeping the creature at arm’s length. He even enlisted the help of nearby wildlife groups to ensure that the care he was giving the condor was appropriate. And, sure enough, the bird began to make some progress.

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Eventually, though, it was time for Edgardo to teach Condorito how to search for food. In the wild, condors are scavengers and consume the dead bodies of animals such as cattle and deer; the farmer would therefore have to source some carcasses in order to tap into the bird’s instincts.

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At first, then, Edgardo began leaving big hunks of meat around his ranch to encourage Condorito to search for them. And after that, when some of the animals from Edgardo’s farm had passed away, he decided to leave them on his land and allow the condor to feed on them – as the bird would do in the wild.

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And, all things considered, Condorito was shaping up to be a pretty perfect condor. He knew how to look for food on his own, for example, and he was also doing pretty well with his flying skills. So, it wasn’t long before Edgardo felt that the time was right to finally set the condor free.

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But Condorito’s release was not the end of the story. How so? Well, in 2017 Edgardo told Argentinian newspaper LM Neuquén that the bird had seemingly not forgotten him. “[Condorito] continues to appear, but less and less – which is what we expected,” the farmer revealed.

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And in a video of one of Edgardo and Condorito’s encounters, the bond between the two is clear to see. The footage sees the bird casually strolling up to his savior with his enormous wings outstretched. In turn, Condorito is greeted with a warm “hola” from his farmer friend.

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After that, Edgardo crouches down so that he can pet Condorito on his back and chest. To the untrained eye, at least, it appears that the bird is quite enjoying the attention he’s receiving, and he stands dutifully still as Edgardo speaks to him in his native tongue.

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The video then continues in much the same way – until Condorito tries to bury his head in Edgardo’s chest, that is. The farmer is actually reluctant at first to allow the bird to get closer. Eventually, though, he lets his guard down and accepts the condor’s advances.

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The clip subsequently comes to an end just after Edgardo turns to the camera and shows it a happy thumbs-up. As he does so, meanwhile, Condorito nestles under his arm while softly pecking at the rancher’s clothes. And at this point, the bond between the bird and his old buddy is undeniable.

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There’s little wonder, then, that the clip of Edgardo and Condorito soon went viral. In fact, the video has now been watched over a million times across social media. And some of the people who have come across the footage have their own tales involving appreciative wild animals.

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Writing on Facebook, Amanda Hunter revealed, for instance, “I took care of a few geckos who were hurt and dazed in my yard in Arizona. They always came out and said ‘hi’ to me once in a while when they were going through again. I knew it was them cause they’d wait there for me and crawl on my hand.”

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Meanwhile, praising Edgardo, Sandra Guillot wrote, “What a beautiful story. Animals don’t forget kindness. You’re a nice man to have taken the time to care for the condor. It does my heart good to see a human help an animal. Thanks for caring.”

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It’s not known how often Condorito has flown back to see Edgardo after those first initial visits. However, Andean condors are capable of living for many years, with the oldest recorded bird of the species having died at the age of 79. So, with that in mind, Condorito and Edgardo could well be at the start of a very long friendship.

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