Every so often it happens that in an international shipment of bananas (or in the grocery!) is found a spider (or their eggs) and very often the people who have no expertise mistakes a harmless spider species for a ‘deadly’.
Given the high importance that the media give the incident, the reaction of the reader is of great fear and alarm. For a pest control operator this may be a sporadic event, but it is a situation to be considered.
Regarding this problem, the Journal of Medical Entomology recently published an article by Rick Vetter on spiders arrived in North America in International Transport, from which we read some information.
For the professional pest control operator this case may be a sporadic event, but it is a situation to be considered.
One of the intercepted spiders has red hairs on its face and it is often misidentified as Phoneutria fera, the Brazilian wandering spider ‘deadly’ (the correct term is actually ‘toxic’).
In reality it is extremely unlikely that this species of Brazilian wandering spider would be brought to North America in bananas, because it lives in the Amazon, far from the Brazilian banana-growing in the eastern coastal regions. In addition, North America imports 96% of bananas from Central and South America (Ecuador, Colombia), not from Brazil.
And, again, Brazil consumes most of its crop domestically so there is little left for export.
The Brazilian wandering spiders that are highly dangerous are limited to the eastern Brazil coastal region and are almost never ‘deadly’: about 42 bites in humans denoted one death (a very young child) no adults and 80 % of bite victims reported no or minor symptoms.
However, a smaller species of wandering spider, considered less toxic than its larger relatives, lives in Ecuador, Colombia and Central America, and reports of bites to banana plantation workers reported no deaths and workers typically missed two or three days before returning to their jobs.
A big spider brought more common in North America over bananas in a study of 2014 was Heteropoda venatoria.
It is a spider common in the tropics (Hawaii, Florida, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, Uganda, Ecuador etc.), a harmless spider with long legs rotated to the side so it looks somewhat like a crab.
The females are mostly uniformly brown in color whereas male has a lovely splashing of tan, brown and black markings. However, both sexes have a white “mustache” above the mouthparts and below the eyes.
The other most commonly intercepted spiders are those of the genus Cupiennius: they are large and have coloration that allows one to easily identify them. They come from Central America (Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua). The bites are not dangerous.
One of the most common species that is found is the banana redfaced spider, C. chiapanensis, which has bright red hair on the upper two-thirds of its chelicerae (the mouthparts that house the fangs). It is a spider that has only recently been described (2006) and for this reason years ago was often misidentified as the Brazilian wandering spider.
A minor species found on the banana is the C. getazi.
It has blacks dots on a white background on the underside of the segments closest to the body.
Occasionally, you can find the spider banana redlegged, C. coccineus. It has bright red hair on the underside of the leg segments closest to the body to the body on the first two pair of legs.