Recently spoke with a friend and learned that she, like other "experienced" expats, believe that spiders such as the one I found & photographed about 6 weeks ago are harmless. They believe them to be wolf spiders or huntsman spiders.
I hate to be an alarmist, but phoneutria boliviensis and phoneutria fera spiders are common in Panama. These spiders aren't harmless. Perhaps they aren't as dangerous as portrayed on some you tube videos, but they aren't innocuous either. Another expert has just confirmed that my Christmas nighttime visitor was indeed a phoneutria. Phoneutria spider bites are extremely painful, and the venom causes systemic symptoms ranging from initial nausea and vomiting to sweating, agitation, hypertension, tachycardia, pulmonary edema, muscle paralysis and possibly even death. Online experts are quick to point out that death is an extreme consequence, encountered mainly in children and the elderly, and not all that common. Moderate symptoms, however, are prevalent, and use of antivenom is frequently indicated. Phoneutria venom is reported to be about 18 times stronger than that of a black widow spider. Hospitalization is often required. The encouraging news is that phoneutria sometimes deliver "dry bites" chosing not to waste their venom on something too big to eat. Nevertheless, this species of spider is considered the world's # 1 most venomous spider and is not to be reckoned with.
Below is a photo taken from Spiderzrule, a website dedicated to all types of spiders. It's a photo of a confirmed phoneutria nigriventer female. My own specimen, below it, has been added to the website as well. Note the black line down the middle of the thorax and six spots on the abdomen. I'm advised hese are characteristic of the phoneutria.
Phoneutria photo from website below
my own unclassified phoneutria
phoneutria fera photo result from internet search
Wolf spiders and Hunstman spiders (heteropoda venatoria) also exist in Panama, and they do resemble the Phoneutria from a distance. But they have distinguishing features which anyone with an interest can investigate online. Their differences are easily recognized. Below is a photo I copied from the internet. It's a Huntsman spider, taken from information provided by R. Vetter at UC Riverside in an online article. The legs of Huntsman spiders are splayed laterally, in a crab-like fashion. The thorax and abdomens are different as well.
I have no idea how a spider 6 inches in diameter made it into my home sight unseen. Had it not been for my cats, though, it might still be a stowaway.
Around 3 years ago, another spider that suspiciously resembled this recent one, fell out of the sleeve of a bathrobe that I keep hanging on my bathroom door. Luckily it was dead when I slipped into the bathrobe following my shower. I never got up close and personal with it, so I have no knowledge of that one's classification.
The point to be taken away from all this is that precaution is indicated when handling bananas and fresh fruit---be it from your garden or from vegetable vendors. And just use precaution in general. Don't be afraid to act decisively if you see one. These spiders don't spin webs. They wander the "jungle" floor at night hunting prey. I try to be cautious getting up at night, or when putting on clothes hanging in the closet. My neighbor was recently stung in the hip by a scorpion as he slipped on a pair of clean pants from his closet. And a girlfriend was stung on the arm when she put on a comfortable sweater previously draped over her chair. The dry weather and fierce winds draw insects indoors at this time of year. Be on the lookout and exercise caution, folks.