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2006-10-14 15:49:31

Tarantula Scare

One Grand Bahama parent was left shaken after he dropped his kids off at school to find some of their peers playing with a tarantula.

Thinking that it might be deadly, he rushed over to apprehend the eight legged creature and trapped it in a piece of napkin. He later brought the tarantula to The Freeport News to voice his concern that the students would be playing with what he thought was a potentially dangerous insect.

This daily then contacted insect expert Hugh Ferguson, operations manager at Budget Pest Control, who positively identified the spider as a tarantula.

As it turns out, based on Ferguson's observation, the tarantula in question "is not particularly harmful to humans."

"The venom is not toxic to humans," Ferguson shared. "However, the hair on the tarantulas have barbed ends and when in contact with skin it can abrade the skin and can sometimes cause an allergic reaction in sensitive skin."

Tarantulas are not native to The Bahamas. They are known to be found in the United States, particularly in the southwest states like Texas and Arizona.

"I have found tarantulas here in Grand Bahama, while I was at the Department of Enviromental Health," revealed Ferguson. "About two years ago a gentleman brought in one and claimed that there was a whole nest, but when we got there it was gone."

Noting that the infamous creature is considered an invasive species in The Bahamas, Ferguson said that it may have gotten here through two common ways.

"One way is through commerce, having things move from one country to the next, and they came here in the process," he said. "The other is through persons who are intrigued by exotic creatures and would have them as pets."

It is quite possible, he said, that the spiders may have come here in grass pallets that people use for landscaping.

In fact, he added that over the last few years he has seen a number of invasive species in Grand Bahama, including African Honey Bees, different types of termites and most scary Black Widow spiders.

The Black Widows, he said, are much more dangerous than tarantulas. He added that through inspection they have found massive numbers in the Freeport Harbour area and the Power Plant on Peel Street.

The Black Widow is known for not only its deadly bite, but also for a distinct red hourglass image on its under belly.

Ferguson said that if you see one in your home, the safest way to trap it is with a vacuum.

"If you have a vacuum with an extended hose, you can just suck it up, and if you don't they are fairly easy to trap in a jar, cup or container," he said.

The bug expert explained that once here the insects will continue to spread until they cover the entire island.

"They will move and of course there is hitch-hiking ability of all pests. Spiders can't fly but if they climb on a vehicle, they can be driven to High Rock," Ferguson illustrated.

Ferguson notes that when these organisms are out of their natural habitat, they lose their natural predators, and with that lack of governance they have the potential to cause major damage.

And this, Ferguson adds, needs to be paid close attention to because "we would find ourselves inundated with all kinds of dangerous organisms and no natural defences for them."

He suggested having the government implement a very vigorous inspection programme at the various ports of entry to cut down on the number of invasive creatures coming onto the island.

Parents are very worried over this discovery, calling it a death trap for children, who often love to play with spiders and other such insects.

"My little boy loves spiders and I don't want him playing with them to get bite and think he is going to become a super hero," declared Marva Burrows. "Marvin is a Spiderman freak and I don't want him thinking he is going to be able to spin no web if he gets bite."

Burrows added that officials from Environmental Health should spray the areas where there are reports of poisonous spiders.

Ferguson, however, advised that kids be taught not to play with insects because there is the danger of being bitten, and "while most are not venomous, insects are known for carrying diseases."

Tarantulas are very large spiders, one of the largest a human will ever come in contact with. They are also very hairy and that sets them apart from all other spiders.

They are sluggish and spend most of their time hidden in burrows or other retreats, becoming active in the late afternoon from spring through fall Some dig their own burrows, others use ready-made crevices or abandoned rodent holes.

Some make their homes under rocks or logs or under the bark of trees. They are not gregarious, meaning there is only one spider per burrow.

The tarantula prefers to live in dry, well-drained soil. If the soil is suitable, the female digs a deep burrow which she lines with silk webbing.

By ANGELO ARMBRISTER, Freeport News Reporter

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