What Is A False Widow Spider?

How to spot false widow spiders: What to do if the False Widow spider bites you

FALSE WIDOW SPIDERS is known as one of the UK’s most dangerous spiders. Here’s what to do if the False Widow spider bites you.

Noble False Widow spiders arrived in the UK around 1879, migrating from Madeira and the Canary Islands. In Britain the False Widow has a reputation as one of the few local spider species which is capable of inflicting a painful bite to humans, with most bites resulting in symptoms similar to a bee or wasp sting. The distribution of the spider is expected to increase northwards in the UK, due to, at least partly, mild winters in recent years.

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What to do if the False Widow spider bites you

A False Widow spider’s bite usually only cause minor irritation.

However, some stings can be painful and trigger a serious allergic reaction.

The spider’s venom can cause localised pain, minor swelling and, in extreme cases, nausea.

Noble false widow spiders have a distinctive white marking (Image: GETTY)

Noble false widow spider (left), the rabbit hutch spider (top right) and the cupboard spider (Image: Colchester Borough Council)

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When the insect bites, it releases saliva that can cause the skin around the bite to become red, swollen and itchy.

If you are bitten by the spider the first thing to do is wash the area with soap and water.

A bite spray or antiseptic cream will also help to prevent infection.

But if there’s a lot of swelling and blistering or if there’s pus you could have an infection and it could be wise to seek medical help.

False Widow spiders: The spider’s venom can cause localised pain (Image: GETTY)

Dial 999 and ask for an ambulance if you experience any of these symptoms after a bite or sting:

  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • A fast heart rate
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Confusion, anxiety or agitation

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How to identify False Widow spiders

  • Its legs are reddish-orange colour
  • Females range in size from 9.5 to 14mm while males are 7 to 11mm
  • The false widow spider’s body and legs have a glossy appearance
  • The false widow is of medium size with a round, brown body with cream coloured markings
  • Aside from its colouring, the species resembles the black widow spider

UK Spider invasion

Spider season has begun; take a look at the leggy visitors that have been seen scuttling around your homes recently!

Sally Anne Bunch found this 3

False Widow spiders: The False Widow is one of Britain’s most dangerous spiders (Image: GETTY)

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What is the False Widow spider?

The False Widow spider is often mistaken for its much more dangerous distant cousin, the Black Widow.

See also:  How Long Can Spiders Live Without Food?

The noble false widow is the most venomous of the three types of false widow species found in and around British homes.

It is believed that the spider was first imported to Britain in bunches of bananas from its native homelands of Madeira and the Canary Islands.

The first sighting of a noble false widow was in 1879 in Torquay but the species has since spread across southern England.

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How dangerous are false widow spiders?

Every autumn there are reports of false widow spiders becoming uninvited eight-legged houseguests in homes across the UK.

See also:  What Does A House Spider Bite Look Like?

But despite looking similar to the more dangerous black widows, all these spiders are likely to do is give you a small and relatively harmless bite.

It might seem like false widow spiders make a dash for your home as soon as the weather gets chilly, but they can actually be seen inside year-round.

Temperature may be one cause of the arachnid exodus as they attempt to get out of the cold, but some may have long gone unnoticed in the darkened corners of the house.

What does a false widow look like?

False widows (Steatoda sp.) are sometimes confused for black widow spiders (Latrodectus sp.) and are mistakenly thought to be as dangerous. Both have a similar dark-coloured, globular body.

The name false widow is given to species in the genus Steatoda. Six of these species live permanently in the UK.

The three most common false widows are:

  • the rabbit hutch spider (Steatoda bipunctata)
  • the cupboard spider (Steatoda grossa)
  • the noble false widow (Steatoda nobilis)

Each species is fairly distinct in colour and size.

This is a cupboard spider (Steatoda grossa). It is one of the three most common false widow species in the UK. Its body is usually between 4.5 to 10 millimetres long. В© thatmacroguy/ Shutterstock
В

Noble false widows

The noble false widow is most commonly reported and it is the largest of the three most common species. It reaches a body length of between 8.5 and 11 millimetres.

The noble false widow was first recorded in the UK in the 1870s — likely a stowaway on cargo ships from its native Madeira and Canary Islands.

But it is only since the 1980s that the species has gained a strong foothold, forming established populations in the majority of the southern counties — although it has now spread northwards.

A noble false widow with its iconic ‘skull-shaped’ markingВ В© thatmacroguy/ Shutterstock
В

Their webs are usually suspended at least 1.5 metres off the ground to allow the spiders to hunt flying insects. In homes they often prefer to skulk in kitchens and conservatories. Their webs are a tangle of threads, a characteristic of all false widow species.

The pattern on their bodies is often described as ‘skull-shaped’, which probably doesn’t help their negative reputation.

Mistaken identity

There are also plenty of other spiders that also cause confusion in homes and gardens across the UK.

Two of the most common are the missing sector orb weaver (Zygiella x-notata) and the lace webbed spider (Amaurobius sp.).

The missing sector orb-weaver can be mistaken for a false widow, although it is not known to bite humans В© shaftinaction/ Shutterstock

Both species, like false widows, are found all over the UK. The latter is also known to be a biter, although with similar (or even less) pain as a result, and few lasting symptoms.

Lace web spiders are most often found outdoors, building their webs on fences, sheds, walls and any general clutter lying about.

The missing sector orb weaver, however, is more of an indoors spider. Most homes in the UK are likely to have this spider in residence. This species is one of the few spiders that will feed through the winter, as long as there is plenty of food available.

The lace web spider is mostly found outdoors. Their colouration and pattern leaves them often mistaken for a Steadota species В© Ian Redding/ Shutterstock

Should you fear a false widow?

There are over 650 species of spider known to live in the UK. Only around 12 of these are recorded as species that have bitten humans.

So, if you see a spider, the likelihood is that it is just a harmless, common British spider.

False widows are not the deadly spiders they are sometimes thought to be.

Although false widows do have a venomous bite, the venom is not particularly potent. Usually the only symptom is pain at the site which may radiate away from the bite. It ordinarily lasts between one and 12 hours, and rarely for more than 24 hours.

See also:  What Does A Brown Recluse Spider Web Look Like?

Often, the symptoms are no worse than the pain of a wasp sting.

Males are more prone to biting. But this is only because they leave the nest in search of a mate, often venturing indoors looking for females. They are only known to bite when provoked or trapped against skin.

The rabbit hutch spider (Steatoda bipunctata) is found commonly across the UK, and can be found in most British gardens В© thatmacroguy/ Shutterstock

There are sometimes reports of false widow bites that present with more sinister symptoms like rotting flesh and excruciating pain. But these are usually not backed up with formal spider identification.

The extreme side effects experienced are most likely the result of a secondary infection, likely bacterial, if the wound is not kept clean.

There is often hysteria surrounding these spiders, and they have unjustly earned a reputation for being a dangerous pest. But these spiders only bite when they feel threatened.

Jan Beccaloni, Curator of Arachnida and Myriapoda, says ‘During my time at the Natural History Museum I have, not surprisingly, met many people who are scared of spiders. That’s a great pity because spiders are awesome creatures which are sadly misunderstood.

‘Aside from their key role in feeding on pest insect species, their silk is being developed to make specialist clothing such as bullet-proof vests and their venom can be used in pain relief.

‘So next time you find an unwanted spider in your house, please don’t kill it! Either leave it in peace, or humanely put it out in your shed.’

False widows can live in relative harmony with us — they’re even tidy houseguests, helping to keep the place clear of flying insects and other pesky invertebrates.

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