False Widow Spider alert!
It is autumn and time for the spider stories to emerge from cracks in darkened floorboards ….The False Widow Spider is back in the news and it is undoubtedly spreading northwards. One of the few genuinely poisonous spiders in Britain, this is a sub-tropical beast which hails from the Canaries.
This was an internet article a few years ago: The False Widow, a purple and black creature with a body the size of a 1p piece, is said to carry enough venom to kill a human. Since arriving in Devon from the Canary Islands, the spider has established colonies in Devon, Dorset and Cornwall. The spiders do not usually survive in colder parts of the UK, but a series of mild winters have led them to migrate to other areas.
Spider recorder David Haigh, of Cheltenham, has reported sightings of the species in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. One was in a shed in Tewkesbury and the other was spotted in Longney, he said. The False Widow is one of 12 arachnid species known to bite humans in the UK. In January, Lyn Mitchell became critically ill after she was bitten by one of the creatures while in bed at her home in Egremont, west Cumbria. Ms Mitchell, 52, suffered a serious allergic reaction to the bite and was rushed to hospital.
‘I jumped out of bed, pulled the duvet and sheets back and saw a spider running over the other side,’ she said at the time. ‘It was only tiny, black and shiny, and it ran so quickly. “When I looked down I noticed two little pin marks on my chest.’ The False Widow first started to arrive in banana shipments from the Spanish islands about 140 years ago. Its bite is not deadly but can cause swelling and severe pain.
I have some other newspaper cuttings from last year which I will find and post up too. These are along the lines of ‘Giant spider ate my child …..! and similar over-reactions by the media. In Sheffield in 2013, we even had a local school close for the day …… because of a common Garden Spider.
Back in October 2013 I wrote: ‘On a happier note, the other news has been of giant Hornets causing mayhem in China and the False Widow Spider coming into season in parts of Britain, especially in southern England. This is one of the very few quite nasty spiders over here and fortunately, you won’t meet one in our region, at least not yet. However, watch out for the big House Spider, which is both useful and harmless. This is their time!‘
This was followed in November by a developing story, ‘One of my regular correspondents, Stanley Wraith of Meersbrook, sent a picture of a large spider in a circular ‘orb’ web. This follows on the debate about big spiders moving northwards and the possibility of the alien (arrived about 1870s), False Widow Spider. I even had a radio Sheffield caller whose husband had been bitten on the hand by a big spider in their allotment shed at Meersbook. His hand then turned nasty and infected. So was this the elusive False Widow? Sadly, we will never know because generally in these circumstances people fail to get ‘evidence’ – like a photograph or better still the specimen itself. So we are left with the tantalising ‘maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t’ situation. When someone is bitten or stung the last thing on his or her mind, usually, is ‘what was the culprit’. I do recall a police sergeant from Attercliffe Police Station arriving at the City Museum where I then worked, with a specimen of a Greater Horntail (Urocerus gigas), a large, buzzy, yellow and black insect of the wasp family and with a huge ovipositor at the rear end. This insect lays its eggs on recently felled coniferous wood, and is completely harmless. However, as a stinging insect it looks the ‘real deal’. I was most impressed by the calm displayed by the officer as he apprehended the beast. On the accession form, he completed it said ‘How Found’, and he had written ‘collected in jar after it landed on my neck’. I felt this displayed courage and fortitude in the line of duty; after all, he really did not know it was not a stinger. However, back to Stanley’s spider, which of course was a good old-fashioned Garden Spider, Araneus diadematus. This species, a common orb-weaver spider found in Europe and parts of North America, is harmless and is also known as the Diadem Spider, Cross Spider, or Cross Orb-weaver. They may be around for a few weeks yet until the weather turns cold.’
I went on to speak with the person bitten by a spider in Meersbrook, Sheffield, and the symptoms were exactly that of a False Widow bite, and the description of the spiders in the shed on the allotments was spot on. I asked if they had had the presence of mind to take a photograph for me …… but sadly no.
This is a copy of the latest coverage on the ‘web‘ (sorry!):
Millions of Brits could be at risk while they sleep – because Britain’s deadliest spider is migrating into our bedrooms. It is suggested that False widow spiders are flocking to our bedrooms, because they are often the warmest and driest room of the house – to breed. Homes in the warmer south of England are more likely to house the potentially deadly spider – which could cause a fatal bite if the victim was vulnerable, old or infirm. Mild weather has led to soaring numbers of the species, which has a bite that can be at least as painful as a bee sting. The spiders tend to lurk in toilets, kitchens, lofts, garages and conservatories, but prefer warm rooms where windows are often left open – like bedrooms.
Pest management consultant, Clive Boase, said conditions are ideal for the spiders over the coming weeks, but stated that their numbers are unknown. Clive said: “Nobody has any idea how many false widows there are – they are a small insect, so there potentially could be hundreds of thousands or even millions. We’ve had a reasonably warm year with very few cold snaps and no particularly extended periods of either dry or wet weather. That has led to more invertebrates, such as flies, to feed on and means false widows, as well as many other species of spiders, have been able to continue their development throughout the summer. Sightings of spiders often peak from September as males of many species reach adulthood and venture into homes in search of a mate, but we could be seeing a lot more of them than normal over the next month or two.”
The false widow has long been established in the southern counties but has also started to spread further around the country. Clive added: “They tend to stay near structures outside, but will climb through an open window if one is available.“If you were to leave a bedroom window open, they could come in from the outside.”
However, whilst most big spiders in houses are merely ‘House Spiders‘ and generally doing a neat job of pest control, the False Widow s one to watch out for. If you want a really scary one though, head for North America and the Brown Recluse …… now that is genuinely nasty!! [See my previous blog for pics of a good-sized House Spider]