The Reason People Keep Finding Spiders in Fruit—Turns out It's a Good Thing
Last week, the internet let out a collective shudder when news of a local Connecticut woman discovering a Black Widow spider nestled among her grapes went viral. The woman and her 11-year-old son picked up a package of organic grapes on the vine from a nearby Stop & Shop supermarket, but only found the potentially deadly spider after eating half of the grapes that were already in the bag.
And this week, a particularly unlucky woman in Nebraska discovered a pair of Black Widow (two!) spiders in her grapes as well.
You may wonder why spiders are randomly invading fruit fields, ask if the farmers are ignoring their grapes the way you do those dank, cobweb-filled corners of the basement, or believe the shopper should have washed her purchased before eating. (Okay, that last one is accurate—always wash your fruit before eating it, guys.)
But the truth is that the grapes weren't abandoned and there aren't masses of fruit-loving spiders invading hapless vineyards. In fact, grapes that have had spiders in them are probably more desirable to a shopper in search of clean fruit.
It turns out that spiders have long been used in farms across America on grapes and other fruits (such as bananas) to manage pests. They like to feast on the critters who like to feast on the crops.
Which is why Popular Science published a 2013 investigation on the use of spiders in pest-management on farms that aim to rely less on chemical repellents overall.
“From a pest management perspective, spiders are beneficial. They eat a lot of pest insects,” Rick Foster, a professor of entomology at Purdue University, told Popular Science. “We want to keep them there in the field, and what we don’t want to do is bring them into the grocery store and into your homes. But it’s kind of hard to have it both ways.”
More stories of grocery shoppers discovering a pesky surprise:
When it comes to grapes in particular, Foster said that many insects actively seek out grapes and grape leaves, which is why spiders spin their webs in grapevines. Grape are harvested right in the field where they grow, and usually, they're not washed or processed before being packaged and sent off to grocery stores, he said.
And grapes aren't the only kind of crop that spiders have the potential to protect from other insects and pests—early research published in the 1990s highlights soybean, alfalfa, rice, sorghum, peanuts, sugarcane, and corn among the crops that more often than not play host to various species of spiders who help keep crops safe. The research illustrates that spiders play a particularly strong role in organic farming as they cut down on the need for chemicals.
If farmers want the best yield for their fruits and vegetables, they usually choose between two options—chemical repellents, which have long caused concern for those in search of organically raised food, and biological pest control.
Spiders aren't just helpful—they're essential, according to Norman Platnick, an arachnid researcher at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The Huffington Post highlighted his work in this article when he opened a live spider exhibition in the museum in 2014.
“If spiders disappeared, we would face famine,” Platnick told the Huffington Post. “Spiders are primary controllers of insects. Without spiders, all of our crops would be consumed by those pests.”
Many people, on finding a spider in their groceries may think they're in mortal danger—but, most commonly, spiders pose little to no threat. Popular Science pointed out that Black Widows, for example, aren't as deadly as they're perceived to be: A bite can cause nausea, pain, and cramps, but it's rarely enough to kill an average adult.
While it's clear that most of us won't immediately love the notion that our favorite eats are protected by over 600 plus species of spiders, the fact of the matter is that spiders are a preferable alternative to harsh pesticides that have long caused others to be wary of non-organic produce.
You might think yourself rather unlucky to catch a glimpse of eight hairy legs on a summer's bounty this season, but it could be a telltale sign that your ingredients are as natural as they were meant to be. A good rule of thumb is to rinse your fruit and veggies extra well—and if you stumble upon any unwanted stowaways, set them outside (where they can keep the pest population down)… and then run for your life.