Falsehoods about false widows put to rest

Wednesday 23rd October 2013

Conservation charity Buglife have published a new webpage packed with information about the false widow spider to allay growing fears over the danger of this slow moving arachnid.

The majority of British spiders could not bite you if they tried because their fangs are too small or weak to be able to penetrate human skin.  Even if one of the larger spiders does manage to bite you, the symptoms are usually like a pin prick or milder than a wasp or bee sting and do not last long. Most large spiders are not inclined to bite a human – you can handle hundreds of large house or garden spiders and never get bitten.

“The hysteria growing around false widow spiders has fed underlying public fears of arachnids leading to mass misidentification and the persecution of many common house and garden species. We hope that these web pages will help the public to be more at ease with the helpful spiders that are an essential part of our ecosystem”. Paul Hetherington, Director of Communications at Buglife.

The notorious Noble false-widow (Steatoda nobilis) does indeed have a more venomous bite than other British species.  It injects a neurotoxin which may cause localised pain, minor swelling, and in extreme cases nausea within a few hours (but not days). Symptoms then fade away.  There are no proven cases where the Noble false-widow has caused death, coma or permanent injury.  Its neurotoxins do not result in ‘necrosis’ i.e. the gangrene-like infections described in the media – this results from a bacterial infection which could come from any source including scratching a mosquito bite, scratch or splinter wound with dirty fingers.  Females of the Noble false-widow spider are notably sluggish, ponderous, solitary and non-aggressive, they will never run or jump at you in an aggressive manner as some people have described.

While an allergic reaction to a spider bite is theoretically possible, this has never been recorded, even in people who are allergic to bee or wasp stings.  There is no proven link between spider bites and bacterial infection and there are still no confirmed cases of serious injury resulting directly from the bite of a native spider in Britain.