One bite from disaster after black widows invade factory

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The Independent Online

The quiet town of Barton-upon-Humber in north Lincolnshire has three rather dangerous guests. Two black widow spiders, including a deadly female, and a brown widow were captured by staff at an engineering firm after scuttling out of US-imported aircraft engines and surprising workers who were stripping the engines down.

The men caught all three of the venomous creatures by placing glasses from their works canteen over them and using pieces of cardboard to trap them – without realising that a single bite could be fatal. They are now keeping them alive in jam jars and an office display case on a table in the engineering works, feeding them flies and smaller spiders.

The spiders, which travelled over from Kansas with the engines on a KLM flight and aboard a North Sea ferry, will probably end up in a British wildlife park.

On Monday morning supervisor Matt Eales, Dan and Dave Peacock, Darren Elliott and Dave Holden – who said they had never encountered anything worse than harmless house spiders in imported engines – lay underneath the two old 747 engines and started working on them with spanners.

Mr Holden, 48, from Lincoln, said: "I noticed this spider come scuttling out while one of my colleagues was on the floor, under the fan case. He said: 'Look at the size of that thing.' I said: 'That is not a normal spider.' It was only a foot away from his head while he was spannering away. We got a glass from the canteen area of the workshop and put it over it with a piece of card underneath it and tied some cloth around it." Staff later identified the spider as a female black widow from its distinctive red markings. Later that afternoon, a male black widow emerged, and on Tuesday the team came into work to find a third spider, a slightly less venomous brown widow, hanging from its web off the side of one of the engines.

Stuart Elliott, the managing director of the company, TC Power, said: "It is quite scary when you think we have had three or four people lying around underneath the engines, working within five or six inches of the frames where we found the first female black widow.

"We have had common or garden house spiders on engine frames when they have come in from abroad but nothing as deadly as this," he added. "We pulled the guys off the job, had a risk assessment and consulted north Lincolnshire environmental health."

Mr Holden added: "We are pretty confident there are no more about. They have inspected the frames and looked inside and can't see any more. All you can do is have a laugh about it and get on with it."

Craig Gledhill, the zoo manager of the Jungle Zoo in Cleethorpes, said of the female black widow: "It would be a very serious incident if a healthy human were to be bitten. But if they were to receive quite swift medical treatment they would probably survive... if the individual was elderly or a small child, or anyone with a heart or respiratory problem, then they would be in great danger from the neurotoxic of the venom."