Users of social media have shared dire reports regarding the spread of a “deadly” spider known as the false widow in the UK. Today we’ll look at this claim a little closer.
Warnings regarding the spread of the false widow have been circulating for over 10 years. In September 2001 a BBC article reported that sightings of the spider had spread throughout the UK. In that article, the false widow was referred to as a “biting” spider, which caused “numbness and stinging, similar to a wasp or bee sting.” The spider was not referred to as deadly at that time.
In the last few years, reports of the false widow have taken on a more alarmist tone, with such terms as dangerous, venomous, and even deadly used. A series of particularly dramatic articles published by the tabloid The Daily Star in recent months have fueled the fears behind the false widow. Such headlines include:
- “False widow alert: Millions of KILLER spiders on loose across UK”
- “False widow spider on rampage in Britain”
- “False widow fears spread as suspicious spider is found in Perth”
- “False widow spider ATE my leg”
These articles contain dire warnings and fear mongering verbiage of the “highly venomous” “killer spider” which is “on the rampage” and has “attacked” local citizens.
Even the BBC, in a recent article entitled, “False widow spider sightings in the UK on the rise” referred to “Britain’s most venomous spider” but later quoted a wildlife expert who said the spider is nothing to worry about.
The Daily Mail has also highlighted a few extreme bite cases over the past year.
Greg Hitchcock of the Kent Wildlife Trust, who is a member of the British Arachnological Society and holder of a Masters degree in Zoology told Richmond & Twickenham Times that the false widow is not deadly, and noted that no one in the UK has ever died from a spider bite. “They are no more dangerous than eating a peanut. But quite often alarming headlines are used to draw people in,” he said.
Matthew Chatfield, aka The Virtual Ranger, discussed the false widow on The Ranger’s Blog:
“As with nettles, bees wasps, and even peanuts and PVC, some people unfortunately are sensitive to spider bites and will suffer reactions such as flu-like episodes, palpitations and hot/cold sweats. But for almost everyone, the effect of spider bite in this country is an itchy lump for a day or so at worst. So actually, there’s almost no evidence of Steatoda nobilis or any other UK spider causing anything more than temporary discomfort to anyone…So Steatoda may well be the UK’s most dangerous spider, but that position is only slightly more odious then being the UK’s most dangerous kitten.”
The false widow, or Steatoda nobilis, arrived in England around 1879. It can inflict a painful bite to humans, and a small number of high-profile bites have been attributed to the false widow in recent years – most of them unsubstantiated.
There have been no deaths reported from the bite of Steatoda nobilis in the UK. A bite from this spider is usually not deadly, although medical attention should be sought if an adverse reaction to any spider bite occurs.
Alarmist articles such as those by tabloids like the Daily Star do not represent the opinion of experts who have stated that the false widow is relatively harmless except in those rare cases of extreme sensitivity.
- Biting spider widens its web (BBC News: September 21, 2001)
- False widow spiders are getting bad press, claims expert (Hardeep Matharu, Richmond & Twickenham Times: October 5, 2013)
- False widow spider sightings in the UK on the rise (BBC News: October 5, 2013)