MAF investigates black widow spider find

5 October 2000

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is investigating the finding of two live black widow spiders.

One spider was found in a Californian table grape carton in a Christchurch warehouse, the other was found in a carton in a Wellington warehouse.

New Zealand imports approximately 400,000 cartons of Californian table grapes a year. These grapes go through a stringent post-harvest fumigation in California prior to shipment. While it is not unusual to find dead spiders amongst grapes, finding two live spiders in the same week, in separate shipments is unusual.

A MAF Quarantine officer yesterday conducted an audit check in California with the United States Department of Agriculture officers. The audits have confirmed that the required treatments are being carried out in accordance with agreed standards.

As part of the audit checks, MAF will be conducting further inspection and audit activities to confirm that existing systems meet MAF standards.

The risk of black widow spiders becoming established in New Zealand is considered very low.

The male black widow spider has an elongated black shiny body, with white and red markings on its side. The female's abdomen has a red hourglass mark or two red marks on its back. The spider is about half an inch long when its legs are not spread. It is similar in appearance to the native New Zealand katipo spider, which is venomous. A black widow spider's bite is also venomous, and may result in breathing difficulties, nausea and vomiting. Recovery may take up to ten days. Other bitten individuals may have no symptoms at all.

The Ministry of Health has been notified.

For further information contact:

Kevin Nalder, National Adviser, International Operations (Plant Imports), Phone: 04 474-4243
Gita Parsot, Communications Adviser, Phone: N/A

Contact MPI

for general enquiries phone

0800 00 83 33