Are poisonous spiders being imported in shipments of bananas and other international cargo? A recent study in the Journal of Medical Entomology looked into this scary problem.

The study found that the spiders most often seen in bananas imported into this country are usually one of two harmless species, the pantropical huntsman spider, and the redfaced banana spider. Spiders of medical importance in imported bananas are extremely rare. The only ones that have come into this country are called Brazilian wandering spiders (also called banana spiders, or Phoneutria). These are black, hairy spiders, and they can be large, with leg spans up to 2½ inches wide. Their bites on very rare occasions have caused death in their native countries of Central and South America, but usually the bites cause only mild symptoms. And there have been no reports here of anyone being bitten by one of these spiders.

There are many scares of Brazilian wandering spiders coming into the U.S., but during the last 85 years there are only verified records of seven getting here from other countries—six of these were intercepted in bananas, and one in electrical parts.

And what about the famous Harry Belafonte song, “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)”, that talks about “the deadly black tarantula” hiding in bunches of bananas? Tarantulas are rare in bananas in the countries where they are grown. The song probably refers to Brazilian wandering spiders, not tarantulas at all.