Abby Woodgate of Essex, England, recently noticed what looked like mold on a bunch of bananas her grocer had just delivered. She poked it with a toothpick and some tiny eggs rolled out of what turned out to be a fuzzy cocoon. Fortunately, she stopped there and called Tesco, which sent over a pest control expert who identified the eggs as offspring of the Brazilian wandering spider, named by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2010 as the world's most deadly spider.
Before you peel your next banana, consider what Miss Woodgate found. The twelve species of Brazilian wandering spider make up the genus Phoneutria, which is Greek for “murderess,” with the Phoneutria fera being the most venomous. Venomous as in injecting the neurotoxin PhTx3 in sufficient quantities to cause a progression of intense pain, inflammation, loss of muscle control, breathing problems, paralysis and asphyxiation.
If the venom doesn’t kill you, the looks can certainly be paralyzing. These spiders have a leg span of up to 5.9 inches (15 cm) and their furry bodies can reach 1.89 (48 mm) in length. They’re called “wandering” because they’d rather walk around looking for victims at night than spin webs.
Fortunately, Miss Woodgate only found the eggs of a Brazilian wandering spider. Or did she?
Richard Vetter, a retired professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside, says the eggs are very difficult to identify without their mother around. He doubts that Essex exterminators could accurately identify them. Not only that, the world-record-holding Phoneutria fera lives in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, nowhere near the Brazilian banana fields. In fact, Brazil exports very few bananas.
Vetter blames the media (doesn’t everybody?) for pointing the finger at the poor Phoneutria fera to sensationalize the story and cause banana fans to split (you knew it was coming eventually, didn’t you?). The eggs were probably from another species of large but harmless spiders.
If you find anything crawling around in your fruit bin or eggs on your banana (insert your own joke here), call the store and consider the Paleo diet.