If you find a hairy-legged, red-fanged creature in your bananas: don't be alarmed. Chances are, it's not dangerous.
At least, that's what arachnologist Richard Vetter says. After reports that some banana shipments from South America were left to waste and that people were panicking when a spider was found, Vetter decided to investigate.
He looked at 135 spiders collected from 1926 to 2014 and found that most of the stow-away spiders tended to be the harmless huntsman spider or the red-faced banana spider. But in the past, these spiders have been mistaken for the deadly Brazilian wandering spiders and the repercussions can be costly, especially if shipments are lost. With the help of proper identification and spider removal, these shipments could be saved.
Of course, caution is still advised. Of Vetter's 135 banana spiders, 7 were Brazilian wandering spiders. For Vetter, however, 7 is not a significant number and spiders in bananas should not make people panic unnecessarily. He told National Geographic that thousands of dollars of bananas shouldn't go to waste over a case of mistaken identity.
"What my paper is doing is giving information to the entomologists and arachnologists so they can properly identify the spiders," he said. "There's also information about how toxic these things are, and it should stop some of the insanity that goes on when people find a large spider in their fruits."
Vetter added that spider stow-aways were extremely rare; he encountered no more than 15 in a year in the samples he was observing from South America. If you consider that 105 million tonnes of bananas are produced globally per year, that's not a lot, though Vetter and his team were looking at a comparatively small sample size. Still, 15 spiders a year means that most years, no dangerous spider was found.
"If there are two ways [people] can go with something—something that's harmless, or something that's potentially dangerous—people always go down the dangerous route. Which may be a survival instinct," said Vetter. "Maybe it's better to take something as dangerous, even if it's harmless, than to figure it's harmless when it's dangerous."