Since living in Panama, I have become aware of the many different species of both animals and plants that can do anything from make me blind within a few hours to straight up kill me. One of which is the highly venomous banana spider/wandering spider (Phoneutria), which seems to call the staff living quarters home as well. This blurry photo is of one I removed just last week. Removed= rereleased outside. No spiders are ever hurt or destroyed.
The Phoneutria spiders are large spiders and easily reach the size of a grown man’s hand. They are commonly called the banana spider because they can often be found hiding in banana leaves. The Phoneutria gained public awareness in England 2005 when Mathew Stevens, a pub chef, was bitten by a Phoneutria that had been hidden in a delivered box of bananas. The BBC News reported Mr. Stevens “took nearly a week to recover from the bite following treatment at Musgrove Park Hospital in Tauton.” Their second given name is the wandering spider. This is because they often wander the jungle floor at night, so biologists who perform research at this time know to be careful.
I have personally removed (with some help) about 5 of these spiders, one of which had fallen on my hand when I reached for a pineapple in the kitchen. Needless to say, I may have let out an unprofessional little scream. So, I’ve decided that its time to figure out the truth behind these large spiders that seem to be quite common in the Western lowlands of Panama. Are they, in fact, the most venomous spider in the world? Could they actually kill a person?
The current Guinness World Book of Records states “the world’s most venomous spiders are the Brazilian wandering spiders of the genus Phoneutria, and particularly the Brazilian huntsman Pheoneuria fera.” Thankfully, this is not the same species that is found in Panama, however, our Phoneutria boliviensis is still a Phoneutria.
But as a genius, why are they so dangerous? According to the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Karlsruhe, the answer lies in their specific type of venom, which contain neurotoxins that act on the ion channels and chemical receptors in the brain. This can cause loss of muscle control, breathing problems and eventually asphyxiation. Another interesting side effect is a quite uncomfortable erection. In fact, according to Romulo Leite of the Medical College of Georgia,, as reported on by Jeanna Bryer “the erection is a side effect that everybody who gets stung by this spider will experience…” Well, I guess except for us females.
Although according to a few websites (Note: I couldn’t find any scientific articles on this), the species commonly found in Western Panama, Phoneutria boliviensis, is not the most venomous species of Phoneutria, however, I really don’t want to test this out.
However, most of the dangers with this kind of spider are due to the fact that they come in close contact with human establishments since their natural habitats (the jungles) are being cut down. Only a small number of deaths are reported each year and they normally involve either children or the elderly (similar to common viruses). I recommend just being aware and remembering to shake out your clothes and check your shoes before you put them on. And keep in mind, they are not out to get you, they’re just trying to be a spider.
Safe travels! ~B