Live black widow found

2 November 2001

A live female black widow spider was found in a bunch of Californian table grapes in a Nelson supermarket earlier this week.

Justin Downs MAF's National Adviser, International Operations (Plant Imports) says MAF is taking this latest find very seriously.

"We are currently working with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to clarify whether this finding is the result of a systems failure or not.

"Clearly if Import Health Standards protocols have not been followed we will need to close the trade in Californian table grapes" he says.

Mr Downs says a meeting with other government biosecurity agencies will take place early next week to discuss options and determine the best course of action in view of the latest finding.

In the meantime imports from the treatment facility in California will be suspended until the USDA completes its investigation.

This is the fourth finding of a black widow spider in Californian table grapes this year.

The first two finds were the result of a fumigation failure and resulted in a suspension of imports of California table grapes while the treatment facility was being investigated.

Following the third detection a major audit was undertaken and no fault could be found in the procedures followed by the treatment facility.

New Zealand imports approximately 400,000 cartons of Californian table grapes a year.

"While unfortunately we may find one black widow spider per million bunches of grapes, our Import Health Standards are fully effective in ensuring the glass-winged sharp shooter does not enter New Zealand."

Chief Adviser Safety and Regulation, Dr Bob Boyd said other black widow spiders may have arrived in New Zealand undetected, and retailers and consumers should remain vigilant.

"Although the black widow spider is not normally aggressive, it will bite to defend itself or its eggs. The spider's bite is venomous. The effect of a bite may result in abdominal pain, breathing difficulties, nausea and vomiting. Full recovery can take up to 10 days," he says.

Dr Boyd said it was highly unlikely that a healthy person would die as a result of a black widow spider bite, however very young, very elderly or debilitated people were at greater risk.

Adult black widow spiders have shiny, jet black, rounded, globular abdomens with two reddish or yellowish triangles on the underside which form a characteristic hourglass marking. Adult female northern widow spiders are shiny black or brown-black with two reddish triangles on the underside resembling a split hourglass.

If anyone finds what may be a black widow spider, they should approach with caution. People should avoid physical contact. Fly spray could be used to stun the spider to allow it to be killed and/or placed into a sealed jar.

Dr Boyd said anyone who suspects they may have been bitten by a black widow spider should place ice on the bite, and seek urgent medical attention. The injury is treated symptomatically. If the spider can be captured without endangering anybody, it should be caught to confirm its identification and the local public health service advised.

For further information contact:

Philippa White, MAF Biosecurity Communications

Contact MPI

for general enquiries phone

0800 00 83 33