He lived in a part of the world that contained thousands of years’ worth of history. So, when he found this on his property, he smiled and considered it a good sign. This discovery could make him rich, he thought. He bent down and took a better look at the weird object. But as he took a closer look at the item, he saw something he had totally missed the first time. Once he figured out what his eyes were actually seeing, he was completely baffled.
Li Wenhua was a simple orange farmer in Pujiang village, which was located in Chengdu in Sichuan Province, China. Extraordinary things were rare in his life. After all, he owned few luxuries and led a very simple life. But he was a hard worker who managed to provide well for his entire family. Then, things took an unforeseen turn, and he found that his life was simply out of control.
Agriculture gave the people in the Chengdu area a chance to make a good living. Since ancient times, the city, located in the Chengdu Plain, was known as the “Land of Abundance,” because of the great climate and fertile soil. Then, an irrigation system was built on the Min River in the second century BC. This made Sichuan one of the most productive agricultural areas in all of China. And to this day, that legacy continues. But modern obstacles have popped up, and farmers like Wenhua are aware of the issues.
Southeast Asia is native to mandarin oranges. They’re a symbol of good luck, and people gift them to each other during the Chinese New Year. If anyone knows this, it’s Wenhua, who’s a mandarin orange farmer. Thanks to trade protections, the market offers mostly domestic products, which is why these oranges are always in high demand. This provides a steady income for farmers like Wenhua. But now, he’s in jeopardy of losing his livelihood.
Mandarin oranges are able to withstand colder temperatures better than other citrus fruit in existence. This is great because Chengdu’s winters are very chilly despite its humid climate and limited sunshine. Mandarins aren’t 100% immune to the ravages of the elements. Climate change and an increase in pollution have made the weather difficult to predict. Now, Wenhua’s trees are vulnerable to disease and frost, causing his orchards to yield less produce. He knew he had to find a second income before it was too late. Then, he made an unexpected discovery.
One November day, Wenhua was clearing weeds in his orchard when his metal tool struck something in the ground. He immediately cleared the soil and discovered an unusual object beneath the soil. The item was round and dark with strange markings in the middle and radial striations. He assumed that the object, which was a half an inch in diameter, was a coin or a medallion from ancient times. “I hit the jackpot,” Wenhua reasonably assumed.
China is full of history, and Chengdu is no exception. In fact, it’s believed to be the site of the earliest known settlement in Southwestern China. Archaeologists discovered proof of a civilization as early as 5,000 years ago. Jade items, gold staffs, and bronze masks have been found throughout Chengdu over the years. But Wenhua never found anything this impressive before. And he knew that if this was some sort of relic from the past, it would be worth tons of money.
Mao’s cultural revolution saw to it that evidence of ancient history and culture was destroyed. Fortunately, Modern China is quite different. The government understood that tourism could stimulate China’s economy. So, they allocated finances and efforts to recreate historical sites. They also looked for archaeological items to collect. The black market was also quite lucrative in this endeavor as well. But Wenhua was interested in seeing if this discovery would solve his financial issues. So, at first, he shoved the item with the tip of his farm tool. Then, it moved on its own.
He assumed it was an object, but objects don’t come to life. Suddenly, the dirt underneath the item sank. Wenhua watched as tiny legs appeared. It suddenly became quite clear to him that this wasn’t a relic from the past, but rather a weird spider. Wenhua scooped the tiny spider up using an empty water bottle. Then, he took it back to the village and showed everyone. But Wenhua was even more intrigued by how everyone was awestruck by the creature.
The villagers talked, and soon, everyone learned about the odd-looking spider that Wenhua had found in the orchard. His home became a venue for people who wanted to see this tiny spider. As the creature’s popularity grew, Wenhua decided to do some research. But when he discovered the spider’s species, things got even weirder.
The spider’s appearance was unique, so Wenhua eventually discovered its name. It was a Chinese hourglass spider. Its species resides in underground burrows and builds a trapdoor using plants, soil, and silk to hide its location. This explained why the head and body of the spider had been underground when Wenhua initially discovered it. But there was something about this creature that made it more special than finding a gold medallion.
One of the earliest documented spider species in China is the Chinese hourglass spider. They’re mentioned in an ancient book from the fifth century BC called the Er Ya. It’s believed to be one of China’s oldest surviving dictionary, and it describes the spider Wenhua discovered to the T. As luck would have it, this spider is truly a rare find.
Although the Chinese hourglass spider is well-documented in early history, it hadn’t been seen since the year 2000, when one was discovered in Sichuan province. After that, only five other spiders were located in the Zhejiang and Fujian provinces in China. So, while it might not have been a relic, the spider turned out to be quite expensive. And Wenhua couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass him by.
Zhao Li, an expert entomologist and director of the Huaxi Insect Museum stated: “The scientific value of this kind of spider is very high. It is an absolutely rare species in Sichuan. I have spent a lot of energy trying to find it and have not met one.” Wenhua realized that he would probably be able to make a profit out of the spider. So, he went online and discovered that selling it would be incredibly easy.
Believe it or not, you can buy a domesticated version of the Chinese hourglass spider from Thailand for about $11 USD (75 yuan). But it would cost you $1,700 USD (12,000 yuan) to get your hands on a wild one like the one Wenhua found. Wenhua definitely wants to make a fortune out of this, but he’s not without a heart. This is a living creature, after all. So, he would like to see that the spider finds a good home.