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Keep Out The Spiders

June 14, 2002

Forest and Bird is calling on political parties to make biosecurity and border control an election focus after a MAF report revealed 57 interceptions of exotic spiders on imported table grapes.

"Over 80 percent of these interceptions occurred after the grapes had passed border controls," said Forest and Bird's Biosecurity Awareness Officer Geoff Keey.

"Many of the spiders are highly poisonous and were found on imported table grapes from Australia, Mexico, Chile and the United States, between 2000 and 2002," he said.

"New Zealanders would be surprised if they knew what organisms were coming into the country. All political parties have a responsibility to tell New Zealanders how they will deal with the problem," he said.

"Exotic introductions like spiders pose a threat to New Zealand's environment. MAF's environmental risk assessment noted that red-backed spiders had been known to catch animals as large as small lizards and even referred to a red-back that caught a mouse and hoisted it into its web," he said

"The report notes that that exotic spiders could eat threatened native invertebrates and out-compete native spiders," he said.

"People worry about spiders arriving in New Zealand on grapes because they don't want to be bitten. But it is important to realise that exotic spiders pose a threat to our native ecosystems too," he said

"New Zealand struggles to deal with the pests we already have in this country. We don't need more," he said.

"Political parties should commit themselves to funding increased surveillance for pests on New Zealand's borders and a quick and effective response to incursions."

"The post-election government also needs to take a tough line on importers who bring in goods contaminated with spiders and other pests. They jeopardize New Zealand's unique environment," he said.


Exotic spider finds between 2000 and 2002 included:

* Western black widow spiders (poisonous)
* Black widow spiders (poisonous)
* Brown widow spider (like black widow but more poisonous)
* Red-backed spiders (poisonous)
* Red-backed jumping spiders
* Wolf spider
* Cobweb spiders
* Yellow sac spider
* Grey house spider
* Harvestman
* Stealthy spider
* Funnel weaver or grass spider
* Orb-web spiders

The MAF report also refers to finds of spider webs, spiderlings (baby spiders) and spiders' eggs.

The New Zealand Conservation Authority estimates that pests cost New Zealand around 1 percent of GDP in lost production and pest and border control. This does not include the full cost of damage to the environment that cannot be expressed in dollar terms.

Trade in table grapes from California was suspended in November 2001 following the post-border detection of four live black widow spiders and a number of other exotic spiders over a three month period.


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