What are false widow spiders, and should we be worried about them?
If the headlines are to be believed, a biblical plague of false widow spiders is covertly infiltrating UK homes, with the sole purpose of feasting on your flesh.
Scores of photos have emerged in recent weeks of stricken victims and scary wounds, while in October of last year nine London schools temporarily shut their doors after apparent infestations. But are the spiders really as scary as these stories suggest?
Here’s everything you need to know about the carnivorous creepy-crawly nicknamed ‘the UK’s most dangerous spider’…
What are false widows?
False widow spiders, officially termed noble false widow spiders, or Steatoda nobilis, are small, stocky, slow-moving arachnids originally from Madeira and the Canary Islands.
Specimens range from 7mm to 14mm in length, and can be identified by the cream-coloured patterns on their otherwise dark abdomens, and mottled, brown-shaded legs. It perhaps doesn’t help the false widow’s reputation that the marks on its back are often said to resemble a skull.
Its name derives from a clear resemblance to the dreaded black widow spider, but the UK critters have little in common with their Australian namesakes. The spiders are not typically aggressive, and only stray from their webs to mate.
Traditionally found in clusters across the south and south east of the UK, the false widow is slowly spreading across the the country – likely due to the rising temperatures associated with climate change.
How bad are their bites?
In theory… not very.
The Natural History Museum describes the nips as “small and relatively harmless” causing “pain at the site… lasting between one and 12 hours” – often no worse than the sting of a wasp. The false widow is one of 10-12 species of spider known to have bitten humans, all of which will hurt but little more.
But if false widows are so harmless, how do you explain the widely-circulated photos of leg lacerations, immobilised victims, and rotting necroses?
The danger from false widows – and the source for most of the horror stories – is infection or, in rare cases, allergic reaction. According to the British Arachnological Society (BSA),”Serious problems with spider bites are only likely to arise if the bite becomes infected, or if the person is already weakened by other health issues.
“As with any other injury, if swelling or ulceration results from a suspected spider bite you should seek immediate medical help.”
How worried should we be?
It’s true that false widows are Britain’s most venomous spiders – admittedly, without major competition – but there’s probably no need to retreat to your panic rooms just yet.
The critters have been native to the UK for roughly the last 150 years, and though they tend to spend more time indoors come autumn, they’re present in your home all year round. Supposed bites are usually reported without clear identification of the culprit, and experts have long voiced doubt over whether the spiders are necessarily to blame.
The BAS has described media hype surrounding the spiders as “wildly inaccurate”, “beyond reason”, and “misleading and plainly wrong.”
The Press Association
Latest posts by The Press Association (see all)
- In pictures: 72 years of married life for the Queen - November 19, 2019
- 12 gardening gifts for green-fingered friends and family - November 19, 2019
- Quiz: Can you match the city with its famous bridge? - November 15, 2019
- Video: How to drive safely in floods - November 15, 2019
- Netflix will make Olivia Colman’s debut in The Crown free to watch - November 14, 2019
Leave a Comment!
Community Terms & Conditions
These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.
You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.
be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.
Contributions must not:
contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.
Nurturing a safe environment
Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.
We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!