The Spiders Are Marching

Arachnophobia. It affects millions of people around the UK, and, indeed, the world.

The sight of the hairy legs (all 8 of them), the cobwebs, the eyes and the fangs, sends some into a state of panic; or of cold, petrifying fear. The unpredictable nature of the foe, combined with the mental image, triggers the fight-or-flight response. Even the smallest spiders can result in this, in the worst cases.

With this in mind, the recent news about the ‘False Widow’ will be, to people suffering from this fear, somewhat…unwelcome. For those of you that missed it, the False Widow spider is a species ranging from around 7-14 millimetres in size. It can be identified by the skull-like markings on the abdomen – though of course, those with arachnophobia will scarcely have time to notice that. Recently, it has been going through something of a population boom – just like, it must be stressed, most species of spider at this time of year.

Unfortunately, it also happens to be, as you may be able to guess from the name, Great Britain’s most venomous

False Widow
A female False Widow (Steatoda nobilis) (Credit: Ian A. Kirk)

spider. As a result, reports have been flying all over the news and the internet of horror stories, like the footballer who had to have surgery after being bitten, or the man left fighting for his life. Whilst I cannot verify the latter, an amateur footballer from Devon did have to have surgery – although only to cut out the poison from his ear. He now suffers from a small amount of pain around the affected area, but no more. The wound will heal.

Which brings us onto something that I have been told, and have followed, for years. Check your sources. In recent days, experts have entered into the debate.  They have explained that yes, it is Britain’s most venomous spider, but no, it isn’t a hugely dangerous one. Those thinking of the Black Widows of Australia and elsewhere are either being misled, or are misleading themselves. This is no spider from Mars.

False Widows generally won’t attack humans. As the old mantra goes, “It’s more scared of you than you are of it.” If it helps, think about it from the spider’s point of view. You’re on the hunt for food. You’ve set up your cobweb, but perhaps it has proved unproductive. You make off to create another, in another part of the house. Then you spot a creature, tall, many hundreds of times taller than you. You’re petrified; caught in the open. You turn to run, or prepare to fight to the last if necessary. And then, inexplicably, this huge creature, this giant, this relative Goliath of a thing, also turns to run. Despite the fact that it is so much bigger than you, and could kill you quite easily, it is absolutely terrified of you. And so you scuttle back to your cobweb, perhaps a little puzzled, but mostly just relieved to still be alive…

These spiders, just like most here, are for the most part not aggressive towards humans. Like many creatures, it will attack if it feels that it’s life is in danger, but generally it will avoid you if it can. If it does bite, the swelling can grow to the size of a tennis ball; however it is much less likely to bite than a bee or a wasp is to sting, and it is far less likely to kill you. Only those with an allergy to toxins similar to the False Widow’s need be worried.

For those that are concerned, however, the advice I can give is this: keep a lookout, and don’t attack. If you don’t go near the spider, if you leave it alone, generally it will allow you the same courtesy. Obviously, if you do get bitten, then perhaps see the doctor to make sure it doesn’t get worse than it needs to, but the chances of this happening are minimal. Especially for those of us currently residing in the North of England, as the closest sighting to Preston so far has been Birmingham. So don’t let it keep you awake at night!

All pictures from Flickr, used under the Creative Commons license found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

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