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Navy engineers catch Black Widow spider in Sea King

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Royal Navy aircraft engineers got a shock recently when they started maintenance on a Sea King helicopter and came across a Black Widow spider inside.

Petty Officer (PO) Alex ‘Scotty’ Scott and Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Daryl ‘Daz’ Prichard, from 845 Naval Air Squadron based at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton, were about to pick up some tools when they spotted the spider.

PO Scott explained how he caught the spider:

I approached the spider, which was about 22mm in diameter, in a typical curious-boy manner, as you do. As I moved in to examine it, the spider became startled and agitated and began to scurry around - revealing the bright red hour-glass patch on its belly.

The aircraft I was working on had recently returned from a detachment to El Centro, California, so alarm bells started to ring.

It didn’t take long to recognise it as a female Black Widow as we had previously received a desert safety brief in California. Alarmingly we were told the female Black Widow’s bite is particularly harmful to humans because of its unusually large venom glands.

The Black Widow spider was about 22mm in diameter and had a red hour-glass patch on its belly
The Black Widow spider was about 22mm in diameter and had a red hour-glass patch on its belly [Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]

The spider was assumed to be a ‘stowaway’ that had somehow survived the sterilisation process, or ‘bug-bombing’ as it is colloquially known, aircraft and equipment undergo prior to their return to the UK.

Thinking quickly, the two engineers captured the dangerous Black Widow in order to preserve it for official species identification. PO Scott continued:

After realising what we were dealing with, we used an element of skill and considerable daring to capture our stowaway rather than squashing it. Having secured the offending beast in a jar we informed the relevant agencies so professionals could verify exactly what type of spider it was.

The discovery led to the hangar being fully fumigated, after which a male Black Widow and an egg pouch were found. The quick thinking of CPO Prichard and PO Scott, and the subsequent actions of Yeovilton’s safety team, prevented a potential infestation of the unwanted spiders.

845 and 846 Naval Air Squadrons operate Sea King support helicopters as part of the Commando Helicopter Force base at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset.