Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ole Tarantula!

Do you regularly buy fresh fruit like bananas and grapes? If so, you may have some cool new pets. From Scientific American:
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.
Spiders are not insects of course, but I suspect they were speaking generically. The article includes an interview with a Cornell entomologist who explains the risks (such as they are) of produce-borne spiders. Oh, and what to do in the rare case that you are bitten by one.

I've never been especially frightened of spiders; I think they're pretty cool (although many years ago one got into my computer, built a web on the motherboard, and shorted out the power supply--it was my first web site, I guess). Most spiders are actually quite harmless. Even the fearsome tarantula is not especially dangerous--in all of medical history there has not been even a single incident of a tarantula causing a human fatality. But then no one is particularly frightened of mosquitoes, and they have been responsible for millions of deaths worldwide thanks to their ability to transmit disease (which spiders do not do), so perhaps we need to rethink our entomological risk assessment.

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