Barry Moore and John Crocker, machinists at Bath Iron Works, were unloading missile-launch assemblies into a guided-missile destroyer when they spotted it.

Crocker brushed the spider onto the ship’s deck. Moore noticed it moving, and put down a pencil.

“It latched on,” Moore recalls. “I said, ‘this guy’s got an attitude.'”

“This guy” turned out to be a female black widow spider, one of 42 black widows that shipbuilders eventually discovered over a two-week period.

The news was reported Tuesday in Maine, and it turns out it’s a story with legs. It has been crawling onto media outlets across the country — on the World Wide Web, of course.

Now, Moore is explaining for the first time how it all played out.

The day after Thanksgiving, Moore and his co-workers were using a crane to lower missile-launch components into a hold on the USS Michael Murphy, which is being built at the shipyard in Bath.

Curious about what had crawled out, one of the workers searched “black widow spider” on his iPhone. Confident they knew what they had captured, the workers dropped it into a pill bottle and told their boss.

Black widows don’t live in cold-weather places like Maine, and they have a reputation for their venomous bites, so their appearance got the shipyard talking.

The next weekend, workers were uncrating more missile assemblies when they spotted another spider. Then they discovered egg sacs and webs in the crates.

“We found 41 spiders that weekend, and we squished them,” Moore said. “The temperature was in the 20s, but it didn’t seem to affect them.”

Moore said the spiders likely came in crates that were shipped from the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station in California — black widows are common in California — then somehow survived Maine’s cold weather.

Bath Iron Works hired a pest control company that fumigated the warship’s launcher area and a warehouse in Brunswick where the crates were stored. No one was bitten, but the news caused a mild case of arachnophobia.

“A lot of our members were concerned,” said Dan Dowling, president of the Local 6 machinist’s union. “We don’t have alligators, rattlesnakes or black widow spiders in Maine.”

Black widow bites can cause dull muscle pain that spreads to the entire body from the bite area, and other symptoms ranging from light sensitivity to difficulty in breathing, according to the National Institutes of Health. Death is rare in a normally healthy adult, but a bite can be fatal for a young child or someone who is elderly or very ill.

BIW asked a company doctor to meet with workers who might have been near the spiders to assure them that healthy adults aren’t at risk of death from black widows, said Jim DeMartini, BIW’s spokesman.

The black widows have created some offbeat publicity for one of Maine’s largest employers. DeMartini saw the story in an out-of-state newspaper’s “strange but true” section. That’s not how he wants to spin it.

“We fumigated,” he said. “And we’re quite confident we followed the right course of action.”


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