Myth: Spider eggs in bananas

Myth: Spider eggs in bananas

October 23, 2015
Rod Crawford

Myth: The tip of a banana should not be eaten because there could be spider eggs inside.

Fact: This seems to be one of the newer urban legends. I find no reference to it from before 2002, though two correspondents say they heard versions in the late 1970s; a third person, as early as 1960. As the story goes, some unspecified spider species lays its eggs in banana flowers, the eggs end up inside the ripe banana fruit, and some nameless fate will overtake you if you eat the end with the eggs. Allegedly, monkeys peel bananas from the "wrong" end to avoid the spider eggs. The story appears on "question" web sites and a southeastern USA talk radio show has publicized it. One person claimed he "saw it on the Discovery Channel."

First, let's explore the term "banana spider." Originally it meant any spider liable to be transported in bunches of bananas. By far the commonest banana spider in this sense is the huntsman spider, Heteropoda venatoria (below, with eggs). The name is also used for any other tropical spider found in banana shipments. Many current writers misapply the name to large orbweaving spiders with no banana association at all, apparently in the belief that their abdomens are somehow banana-like.

None of these spiders lays its eggs in flowers. Flowers change so fast that they would be poor places for eggs. Huntsman spiders guard their egg sacs in a leaf nest, as shown. Many other species found on banana plants do much the same. On rare occasions some spider may place an egg sac on the outside of an already-grown banana. Such an object would be hard for even the hungriest consumer to miss. (In March 2015, a panicked banana-buyer in Wales misidentified just such an egg sac, harmless of course, as "the world's deadliest spider," setting off another foolish media feeding frenzy).

Huntsman spider guarding egg sac in leaf nest

Huntsman Spider, Heteropoda, guarding egg sac in leaf nest (don't worry, it's harmless).
Photo: Bob Thomson

Banana flowers

Banana flowers in Tanzania.
Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim used under Creative Commons license

Bananas on plant

Bananas on plant. And just how do you suppose spider eggs got inside?
Photo: Michael Apel used under Creative Commons license

As shown in the photo (above, center), banana flowers are narrow tubes. In consumer varieties, the fruit grows from the ovary deep inside without fertilization. There is simply no chance for spider eggs to get into a banana. Nor would a species that did this survive long, since spiderlings in an uneaten banana could never escape. Not that eating spider eggs would cause any harm even if this fantasy were true!

This myth has already spawned variations. One that I heard in 2006 says that the spider itself (not its eggs) lives inside bananas, "and waits for humans to come close enough… then like, jumps out and bites them!" Perhaps the perpetrators of this one had read the spoof web site about "Screaming banana spiders." That amusing page is gone now (see the Wayback archive), but urban legends don't die so easily. I'm sure we'll be hearing this one again.

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