Published March 20, 2009
One of the most deadly spiders in the world was found in the produce section of an upscale Oklahoma grocery store.
Or was it?
An employee of Whole Foods Market in Tulsa discovered what an expert said was a Brazilian wandering spider in a bunch of bananas from Honduras on Sunday and managed to catch it in a container.
The spider was given to University of Tulsa animal facilities director Terry Childs, who identified the arachnid and said that type of spider is one of the most lethal in the world.
Childs said a bite will kill a person in about 25 minutes, and while there is an antidote, he doesn't know of any in the Tulsa area.
But a Tulsa Zoo official disputed the findings, saying his analysis through video and photos he'd seen led him to believe that it was a Huntsman spider — which is harmless to humans.
"There's pretty definitive evidence it has been misidentified," said Barry Downer, the zoo's curator of aquariums and herpetology.
Downer said the spider should have been preserved for study, but he was told that the body would not be made available.
"It doesn't make any sense to me why it wouldn't be saved," he said.
Childs said Wednesday night that he had destroyed the spider at the urging of a university administrator because of safety concerns.
A school spokesman said Thursday that the university is looking into how and why the spider was destroyed.
Richard Grantham, director of the plant disease and insect diagnostics lab at Oklahoma State University, also said the arachnid didn't appear to be a Brazilian wandering spider and should not have been killed.
"We preserve it," Grantham said. "We don't destroy it."
In addition, Downer and Grantham disagreed with Childs' characterization of the danger of a Brazilian wandering spider.
Death from its bite is rare, and only victims with compromised immune systems, such as babies or older people, would be at risk, they said.
Spiders often are found in imported produce. A manager at Whole Foods says the store regularly checks its goods and that's how the spider was found.
Oddly, the Brazilian spider delivers more than a painful bite that sends most victims to the hospital. Researchers have found its venom also stimulates an hours-long erection in men.
Patients not only experience overall pain and an increase in blood pressure, they also get an uncomfortable erection.
In Brazil, emergency room staff can immediately spot the victims of a bite.
"The erection is a side effect that everybody who gets stung by this spider will experience along with the pain and discomfort," said study team member Romulo Leite of the Medical College of Georgia, presumably speaking only about male bite victims.
"We're hoping eventually this will end up in the development of real drugs for the treatment of erectile dysfunction."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.