Do dangerous spiders lurk in grocery store produce? (2023)

Last week, a store manager at a Whole Foods in Tulsa, Okla., was surprised—to say the least—to find a large brown spider lurking in a bunch of bananas. The spider was initially identified as a Brazilian wandering spider, a menacing-looking creature with furry fangs and legs as long as five inches (12.5 centimeters) that is considered to be one of the world's most venomous spiders, and one of the few that can kill humans. (Luckily, an anti-venom to the Brazilian’s bite was developed in 1996.)

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According to the Tulsa World, two local entomologists in the end determined that the invader was more likely a huntsman spider, which is large and brownish in color like the Brazilian wandering, but is nontoxic to humans.

Each year, there are several news reports of wandering and huntsman spiders, the main "banana spiders," showing up in grocery store bananas as well as poisonous black widows, which find their way into bunches of grapes on store shelves. Both fruits are generally sprayed with pesticides to prevent insect infestation and usually washed before shipment. Still, even with these precautions and visual inspections, some insects manage to survive.

What draws spiders to bananas and grapes—and what should consumers and produce workers who find the potentially deadly critters in their fruit do?

To find out, we spoke with Linda Rayor, a spider expert and senior research associate in Cornell University's entomology department.

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[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

How common is it to find a spider in grocery store fruit—and are spiders more common in grapes and bananas from certain regions?
For the bananas, you have a reasonable chance of getting them in ones imported from anywhere in Central or South America, the main sources of the fruit. I have no idea of the actual risk, but there are different types of wandering and huntsman spiders throughout Latin America. You pretty much have a chance of getting black widows—which are found all over the world—in grapes anywhere they grow.

Is there something else about grapes that black widows find especially appealing?
Spiders are going to be found anywhere that there are insects for them to eat—and there are plenty of insects on grapes. They're very common in vineyards around the world. Grape arbors (the supports between grapevines) provide really great support systems for spider webs—they're perfect for cobweb-building spiders like the black widow—and the grapes make great hiding places. (Black widow bites can be toxic to humans, but they’re not nearly as dangerous as those from the most poisonous wandering spiders. They can cause intense pain and shortness of breath, but are rarely lethal in healthy adults.)

How about bananas?

Banana trees have these tightly coiled leaves coming up, and then the banana flowers lean down over that. Well, these banana leaves turn out to be just dandy places for these spiders to live, especially ones that hang out on the leaves. The leaves have this kind of hollow center, so a lot of the spiders hang out in the central, deep-covered hole during the day and then come out at night to hunt on the outside of the leaf. Neither one of them are web-building spiders, and so they just kind of hang out on the leaves at night and nab things that wander or fly by.

There are two common groups that are both referred to as "banana spiders," but they're totally different from one another. The first group is the wandering spiders, which is the family Ctenidae, or ctenids. The other is an entirely different family, the Sparassidae, which are the huntsman spiders. They're both big spiders that have relatively long legs. They can both easily be the size of the palm of your hand, no problem.

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Is there an easy way to tell the two types of banana spiders apart?
In one description of the spider in Tulsa, the store manager said it jumped at him. That is so much more like wandering than the huntsman spiders. Huntsmans back off and then run away sideways really fast. They're fast, but they're not aggressive.

Huntsmans are big enough [for their bites] to break the skin. I've probably been bitten by huntsmans—I work with Australian huntsman spiders—I don't know, five times? It hurts because it breaks the skin, but their venom is really nothing much, and they're not really inclined to bite at all. When a wandering spider is threatened, though, it tends to rear up so its front legs go up in the air in a pretty feisty way, often with its fangs open. It's really scary. So, you've got very, very different behaviors.

The huntsman spiders are also different in appearance. Most spiders stand up on all eight legs, but the huntsman spider's legs are rotated so that they're horizontal to the body. This allows them to get really flat to the ground and to move sideways really effectively. In fact, in the U.S. they're sometimes called "giant crab spiders," because they can scuttle around like crabs. The wandering spiders have normal legs that aren't rotated like the huntsman spiders' legs, so they're clearly standing upright, and the underside of the wanderings' front legs, at least in some of their species, is often brightly colored in reds or yellows. It's a warning coloration.

What should consumers do if they encounter one of these spiders in their fruit?
It's like anything: you have to pay attention to what you're doing and make sure you rinse off your fruit. The wandering and huntsman spiders are both pretty big, so you wouldn't miss them.

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Black widows are much easier to miss, because they're about the size of a grape. Black widows are really fast in webs, but they're pretty inadequate on the ground. They really can't run on the ground at all. Their abdomens are just too big, so they kind of waddle around. So a black widow is more inclined to simply drop off the web or off a grape into, say, your sink. And then, once on the ground, it's not going anywhere fast.

Wandering spiders and huntsman spiders are really fast, and they do just fine on the ground. Now, I'm personally not all that big on squishing these guys. I think it's a whole lot more interesting to get them in a jar and get them identified. Spiders don’t naturally attack humans, so the risk of getting bitten is very low. Basically, people shouldn’t worry too much. Black widows, for example, are really shy. They only bite when they perceive a threat, such as a hand trying to grab them. You should try to get the offending spider to drop on the ground and quickly scoop it up into a large container (just as you would with any other spider).

If a black widow does bite you, wait 15 minutes to see if she (only the females are toxic enough to harm humans) has actually injected venom in you--it starts to really hurt. That is the advice given by Poison Control in Arizona. Then go to an emergency room where they can provide antivenom or palliative treatment. Evidently, when a Brazilian wandering spider bites, it hurts immediately, so you go to the doctor or emergency room with the spider if possible, It’s always best for people to bring the spider with them, so the hospital can provide the correct treatment. (For more tips see the CDC’s guide on venomous spiders.)

Could stores or shippers do more to keep spiders out of our bananas and grapes?

I'm not sure what more could be done. A lot of the insects on these fruits are being doused with chemicals or washed before shipping. For example, before bananas are shipped, they are taken off the plant, put in a water trough to wash them off and then they're packed in large shipping containers, which are kept quite cool. Grapes are shipped at cooler temperatures, too.

What will happen is that the spiders at those lower temperatures become quiescent. Some may be dying, but a lot of animals can take cold temperatures for awhile. Both bananas and grapes are sold at the grocery not chilled. So, basically, what you've got is spiders that have been cooled pretty much until they've reached the grocery that are waking up.

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How dangerous are most spiders?
What's important to keep in mind is that truly a small portion of spiders are dangerous to humans. Basically, most spiders can't do a whole lot. They can't break the skin or their venom doesn't react with human physiology. It's estimated that 50 percent of all spider bites don't even inject venom, and they are unlikely to go after humans. Still, you wouldn't want to be bitten by a wandering spider, Brazilian or otherwise. There are wandering spiders all over Latin America, where most bananas come from, the Brazilian wandering spider, or Phoneutria nigriventer, is only found on the Atlantic coast of Brazil, not in Honduras, where the bananas at the Tulsa store came from. The chances of encountering one are really very slim.


What happens if you get bit by a Brazilian wandering spider? ›

The bite of a Brazilian wandering spider is extremely painful. It can quickly result in heavy sweating and drooling. The skin around the bite will usually swell, turn red, and get hot. In severe cases, the bite can result in dead tissue or death.

Are there spiders in bananas? ›

There is simply no chance for spider eggs to get into a banana. Nor would a species that did this survive long, since spiderlings in an uneaten banana could never escape. Not that eating spider eggs would cause any harm even if this fantasy were true! This myth has already spawned variations.

How big is a Brazilian wandering spider? ›

Size & characteristics

Brazilian wandering spiders are large, with bodies reaching up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) and a leg span of up to 7 inches (18 cm), according to the Natural History Museum (opens in new tab) in Karlsruhe, Germany.

What spiders come in bananas? ›

The “wandering spider” – real name Phoneutria – is said to be the world's most venomous, with a poison that can kill in two hours. It is common in Costa Rica and is known to hide in banana plants.

Can spiders track humans? ›

Stimulus forces in the . 01 near-undetectable range are enough for spider stimulation, according to a new published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. In fact, a spider's entire body is built to detect almost anything and anyone that might cross its path.

Can a spider chase you? ›

Experimental evidence shows reports of spiders “lunging” towards a fearful person is more perception than reality. Even if a spider DID want to chase you down, it probably couldn't. With an open circulatory system, spiders don't have a system of veins and capillaries for oxygen distribution through the body.

What is the largest spider that ever existed? ›

In 1980 paleontologist Mario Hunicken made a startling announcement; he had found the remains of the largest spider to have ever lived. Discovered in the approximately 300 million year old rock of Argentina, this prehistoric arachnid appeared to have a body over a foot in length and a leg span of over 19 inches.

Is the banana spider poisonous? ›

Banana spiders may look intimidating, but they're actually timid and not considered dangerous. Though they aren't poisonous, their bite can be painful.

Can you survive a wandering spider bite? ›

Along with other members of the genus, they are often referred to as Brazilian wandering spiders. Its bite can cause severe symptoms, including extraordinary pain, increased pulse, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, penile erection (priapism) that lasts for several hours, and in several documented cases, death.

Are there spiders in grapes? ›

In fact, grapes that have had spiders in them are probably more desirable to a shopper in search of clean fruit. It turns out that spiders have long been used in farms across America on grapes and other fruits (such as bananas) to manage pests. They like to feast on the critters who like to feast on the crops.

What happens if a brown recluse bite goes untreated? ›

What happens if a brown recluse bite goes untreated? If the area around the bite continues to grow and your pain increases, the wound may be infected, especially if the wound begins to drain a cloudy liquid. Infections could be dangerous and spread further from the wound.

Can spider eggs hatch inside human body? ›

Myth: Spiders can lay their eggs under human skin in wounds created by their bites. Fact: In a surprisingly widespread urban legend, a nameless woman is bitten by a spider (usually on her cheek) while on vacation. She later develops a swelling, from which, in due course, baby spiders emerge!

What spider gives you a hard on? ›

The Brazilian wandering spider's venom contains a toxin whose unusual erection-inducing qualities have attracted the attention of the pharmaceutical industry. In 2007, researchers found that the bites of the Brazilian wandering spider can cause long and painful erections in human males, along with other symptoms.

What are spider attracted to? ›

Spiders are not attracted to light. However, like any other animal, they are attracted to food. Since other insects gravitate toward lights, the spiders will follow them there. Any light that attracts flying insects is a prime spot for spiders.

What kind of spider makes a zigzag web? ›

Yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) are also known as writing spiders due to the zig-zag pattern they weave in their large webs. These beautiful spiders are beneficial and prey on bothersome insects, such as gnats, mosquitoes, flies, and aphids.

Can spiders hear you talk? ›

The team has started testing the hearing of other species, such as fishing and wolf spiders, all of which seem to have a similar ability. “Spiders can hear humans talking and walking, which is within the audible range,” says Menda.

Do spiders like body odor? ›

Since spiders detect scent with their bodies, they generally don't like strong smelling odors.

Why are we afraid of spiders? ›

Researchers believe causes might include: A traumatic past experience with a spider. Childhood exposure to a parent's arachnophobia. You may develop arachnophobia if you felt the anxieties of one of your parent's reactions to spiders.

Do spiders know we are scared of them? ›

While the theory is unproven, it is likely that spiders can detect human fear. However, there are only few studies about this topic and it is not yet known for certain. Different animals have sensory organs that are able to identify different stimuli.

Why do spiders run at you? ›

Sometimes when we get too close or disturb them, they treat us like they would treat any predator. Many spiders have threat displays intended to scare off predators, such as rearing up or lunging. Biting in self-defence is another strategy that spiders can use when they are afraid for their lives.

What does it mean when a spider lifts its front legs? ›

The team also captured sample spiders and studied them in the lab—close-up, high-speed video revealed that the spiders lifted their front two legs periodically as they walked, just often enough to confuse prey into believing that the legs were antennae, mimicking ant behavior.

Did spiders exist with dinosaurs? ›

As if dinosaurs weren't enough to contend with in the world of 165 million years ago, the Jursassic period had other frightful creatures roaming the Earth as well: giant spiders. In fact, a Kansas University researcher recently identified the largest known fossilized spider, a relic of the Middle Jurassic period.

Is there a dinosaur spider? ›

The Mongolarachne are an extinct genus of giant spiders that existed during the Jurassic period. To date, only two fossilised specimens have been discovered, the previously named Nephila jurassica specimen, which is an adult female, and the Mongolarachne jurassica male.

Did spiders live before dinosaurs? ›

The arachnid predated the first appearance of the dinosaurs by some 80 million years. As the BBC reports, "The 1.5 cm creature lived alongside the oldest known ancestors of modern spiders but its lineage is now extinct."

What happens if a woman gets bit by a banana spider? ›

A bite from any type of banana spider may be uncomfortable, but it's not as harmful as bites from other spiders, such as the black widow spider. In most cases, a banana spider bite isn't more painful than a bee sting and doesn't cause any further symptoms.

What happens if you get bit by a black widow spider? ›

The black widow spider makes a venom that affects your nervous system. Some people are slightly affected by it, but others may have a severe response. Right away, you may feel severe pain, burning, swelling, and redness at the site. You may even see two fang marks.

Does a wolf spider bite hurt? ›

Since wolf spiders are large, their bite may be painful. If you have mild pain, swelling, or itchiness around the bite, it shouldn't last long. The pain should go away within minutes. The swelling should go down slowly, and the itching may last a few days as the skin heals.

What is the meanest spider? ›

Sydney funnel-web spider. According to the Guinness World Records, the Sydney funnel-web spider, Atrax robustus, is the most dangerous spider to humans in the world.

What to do if a venomous spider is on you? ›

First Aid
  1. Stay calm. ...
  2. Wash the bite area with soap and water.
  3. Apply a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice to the bite area to reduce swelling.
  4. Elevate bite area if possible.
  5. Do not attempt to remove venom.
  6. Notify your supervisor.
  7. Immediately seek professional medical attention.

What happens if you get bit by a radioactive spider in real life? ›

Not much. Or rather, not much aside from the usual symptoms of being fanged by an arachnid: itching, redness, soreness, and sometimes — depending on the type of spider — more serious symptoms, including unconsciousness or death. The radioactivity, though, would be irrelevant. The world is awash in radiation.

Do strawberries have spiders in them? ›

The most commonly released predatory mite in California strawberries is Phytoseius persimilis.

What to do if you find a spider in your food? ›

If It's in Your Food, Don't Release It

If you found the spider elsewhere in your house, you can put it outside. If the spider did arrive in your food, "although it pains me to say this [as an arachnologist], the best course of action is to probably to kill the eight-legged cargo," Buddle says—and Sewlal concurs.

What are the little black dots on grapes? ›

Black spot, also known as anthracnose in grapes, is a serious disease, particularly in areas which experience cool wet springs which favour disease outbreak. Currently it is successfully managed with fungicides, however prior to their introduction, blackspot was a major problem.

How long does it take to know if you got bit by a brown recluse? ›

You may start to notice a red, tender, and inflamed area about 2 to 8 hours after the spider bit you. Over the course of the next several hours, the irritation may cause a burning sensation. The bite may appear as two tiny puncture holes .

Can you get bit by a brown recluse and not know it? ›

Brown recluse spider bites don't always hurt right away. In fact, you may not know that you have been bitten until other symptoms appear. Symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite include: Reddened skin that may be followed by a blister that forms at the bite site.

Can you feel a brown recluse bite? ›

Venom from the brown recluse spider usually causes local tissue damage. The following are the most common symptoms of a bite from a brown recluse spider: Burning, pain, itching, or redness at the site which is usually delayed and may develop within several hours or days of the bite.

Can spiders live in your hair? ›

So have spiders been found to dwell within human hair? There is probably not even a grain of truth to these stories, and as you can guess, spiders do not find the human scalp, with its rows of hair, an ideal place to lay their eggs.

What time of year do spiders lay eggs? ›

The most direct answer is that spiders lay eggs throughout the whole year, depending on the species, but most will lay eggs in spring or fall.

Can spiders crawl in your ear and lay eggs? ›

There are documented cases of spiders, fruit fly babies, bed bugs, crickets, moths, and ticks being found in the ear of some very unlucky individuals. Some of these cases even include eggs being laid; however, it is not known whether or not an earwig has ever laid eggs in anyone's ear.

What spider can paralyze you? ›

A Brown Recluse Spider Bite Caused A Woman To Hallucinate And Become Paralyzed, And There Are Dozens More Hiding In Her Home. The brown recluse spider may not look intimidating, but it is one of the most dangerous spider species in the United States.

What is the deadliest spider on earth? ›

Phoneutria are poisonous to humans, and they are considered to be the deadliest of all the world's spiders. Their venom is toxic to the nervous system, causing symptoms such as salivation, irregular heartbeat, and prolonged, painful erections (priapism) in men.

What happens if you get bit by an old world tarantula? ›

If a person gets bitten by a tarantula, the bite will probably feel a lot like a bee sting, with pain in the area of the bite. It will look like a bee sting, too, with redness and some swelling. Because the tarantula's venom (poison) is weak, it's unusual to have more severe reactions involving other parts of the body.

Can a spider bite gives you superpowers? ›

Most spider venoms aren't very dangerous to humans and even those which are, usually aren't fatal. At worst, they're likely to cause painful reactions or tissue death around the site of the bite. They do not, unfortunately, transmit any superpowers or modify your DNA in any way.

Where can a radioactive spider be found? ›

Radioactive creatures do exist, notably in the forests surrounding the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the Ukraine, as well as in Sweden and Finland, where plumes of radiation fell after the 1986 disaster.

Do spiders have a sense of danger? ›

Spiders can detect danger coming their way with an early-warning system called eyes. You probably expected that. But that's not all: their most important source of information about the world and its hazards comes from highly sensitive hairs that cover the bodies of most spiders.

What spider kills you instantly? ›

1. Funnel web spider. The venom from this spider is packed with at least 40 different toxic proteins, which can overload the body's nervous system and reportedly kill someone in minutes. "With a funnel web bite to the torso, you're dead," Dr.

Which is worse black widow or brown recluse? ›

Brown recluse usually doesn't kill a person the worst that can occur is amputation of a limb, removing and skin grafting the damaged tissue. But the Black Widow can have a more lethal bite since it not only effects tissue but the neurological system, which can lead to death.

What spider is responsible for the most human deaths? ›

The Brazilian Wandering Spider is a large brown spider similar to North American Wolf Spiders, but bigger and possessing a more toxic venom. It has the most neurologically active venom of all spiders, and is regarded as the most dangerous spider in the world.

What happens if a black widow bites you? ›

The black widow spider makes a venom that affects your nervous system. Some people are slightly affected by it, but others may have a severe response. Right away, you may feel severe pain, burning, swelling, and redness at the site. You may even see two fang marks.

Can you survive a black widow bite? ›

In rare and extreme cases, black widow spider venom poisoning may lead to seizures and even death. Death generally doesn't occur in healthy adults. Young people, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to serious complications and death from a black widow spider bite.

Which country has the most spiders? ›

Africa. Millions upon millions of wildlife species call Africa home, and it is no different with spiders.

Can tarantulas recognize you? ›

Tarantulas Just Aren't That Into You

Spiders do have feelings, but unlike a dog or a cat, they won't bond with you. In fact, they likely won't even recognize you. They simply aren't hardwired to be companions to humans and should never be bought at pet stores, online, or anywhere else.

Can tarantulas chase you? ›

One of the most-interesting parts of the tarantula is their fangs, which they use to subdue their prey with venom. Tarantulas are aggressive and will chase you. Myth: Tarantulas are not aggressive, but if they feel threatened, they could run towards you a short distance. .

Do spiders bite if you don't bother them? ›

The majority of spiders in the U.S. aren't dangerous or poisonous. Most spiders won't bite you if you don't bother them.


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