Foreign Spiders

Help! What to do if you suspect you've got a scorpion or foreign spider

'Unusual spiders' nearly always turn out to be British species, perhaps a particularly large example, unusual colour form or one that you have not seen before. Others will be foreign. These can be:

  • Escaped pets (many of the 'bird-eating' spiders are kept by enthusiasts, as are African Imperial Emperor scorpions)
  • Spiders or scorpions that have crept into your luggage whilst on holiday abroad and then emerged
  • Spiders that have come to Britain in fruit, vegetables and other products.

Imported spiders in fruit from abroad include the infamous Black Widow. Several British spiders closely resemble this and are often mistaken for it including Steatoda paykulliana. See false widows.

Banana Spiders, Heteropoda venatoria, also known as the Huntsman or Giant Crab Spider, are less common now; partly because of changes in the way bananas are harvested and transported. These large, brown, crab-like spiders have flattened bodies that enable them to fit into very small cracks and crevices. Heteropoda venatoria lives in tropical and subtropical regions but not Europe where it is too cold. It is transported throughout the world in banana shipments and is thought to have originated in Asia, where its closest relatives occur. This species is common and useful in houses in the tropics where they eat cockroaches and other insects. More importantly, it is harmless, but a large specimen can deliver a locally painful bite if carelessly handled. Adults have a body length of 2.2 to 2.8cm and a leg span of 7 to 12cm (females are typically the larger of two the sexes).

Female Banana Spiders carry their egg sac, containing about 200 eggs, under their body. A sac contains about 200 eggs. The spiderlings hatch and disperse by ballooning. Another spider that occurs in bananas is Torania from West Africa.

What do you do?

Don't panic! Catch it, preferably without killing it. If you are arachnophobic or not too keen on doing this then get a friend or neighbour to help. Put it in suitable container and telephone your local council's Environmental Health department or natural history museum. Very few museums will be equipped to deal with this but should be able to advise you. If you find what you suspect to be a spider egg-sac on fruits (usually bananas), remove the skin and place it and the egg-sac in container and put it in a domestic freezer for a couple of days. After that, the eggs will have been killed and the skin can be composted. The banana removed from the skin is perfectly edible.

If you are bitten by what you suspect to be an imported spider, contact a doctor, although likelihood of this happening is very remote.

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