Itsy bitsy scare: Black widow found in grapes

A beautiful bunch a'ripe banana

(Daylight come and he wan' go home)

Hide three deadly black tarantula

(Daylight come and he wan' go home)

Harry Belafonte doesn't have anything on Dr. David Krese. While the "Day-o" calypso singer bemoaned "three deadly black tarantulas" in his bunch of bananas, the Albemarle County dentist says he recently found a fearsome black widow spider cozied up in its nest in a bunch of red grapes.

Krese's discovery is one of several reported over the last few months by surprised lunch-packers from Hawaii to Massachusetts to Scotland.

"I've seen two black widows in the past year," Krese says, "one at home and now this one in the grapes." The father of three says that he had washed the grapes and tried to persuade his two-year-old son to eat some.

"I heard a shriek," Krese reports. "They had pulled the grapes apart and found the spider. I picked it up in a hemostat, and it didn't look like a traditional black widow. It wasn't shiny, and its abdomen wasn't ovoid. It was elongated." The red hourglass marking convinced Krese the critter was a black widow.

Black widows (Latrodectus mactans Fabricus), while small an adult female is about a half-inch long are some of the most feared spiders. Their name derives from the female's habit of eating her mate after she has laid her eggs, which she does only one time in her life.

Krese bought that particular bunch of red grapes at the Rio Hill Kroger. Paul Waddy, interim produce manager, says the store gets its grapes from California, which was also cited as the source of spider-harboring grapes sold in Massachusetts in November.

Environmentalist and nature writer Marlene Condon doubts the spiders are in the grapes when they're picked.

"I want to stress the fact that this is not a field problem," she says. "It's a storage/shipping problem." Condon points out that black widows are notoriously reclusive and tend to shun the light and people.

Increased pesticide use by growers would not address the problem, she says. "People should not want shippers to start spraying crates, because pesticides would then get on the grapes, and people are more likely to be sickened by the pesticides than hurt by a spider."

Her solution is simple: "The pickers should just be checking the crates for spiders and removing the spiders before filling the crates with grapes."

Black widows are poisonous, but, according to the encyclopedia, their bite is not life-threatening to most people. Symptoms of a black widow bite can include swelling, nausea, and fever. The concentrated neurotoxin in the venom isn't strong enough to kill a healthy adult, but small children are at risk if bitten.

Krese wasn't taking any chances. He says he put the pesky arachnid in the garbage disposal.

"I didn't want to squash it between paper towels and risk getting bitten," he says. "I'm usually pretty spider-friendly, but with my kids I don't like poisonous things around. They're pretty spider-friendly, too, but my two-year-old is the one who found it, so it had to go."