False widows? It's probably a false alarm

Chances are that you have heard about the 'potentially lethal false widow' spiders that have been reported as being behind a number of recent spider bites.

But what you might not be aware of is that these spiders have been in the country for well over 100 years, and have - to date - never killed anyone.

Experts at the British Arachnological Society (BAS) say that the chances of being bitten by a 'false widow' are extremely low, and the majority of bites won't result in serious injury. Most cases that require medical attention are simply the result of allergic reactions to the bite.

'False widows' are so called because they are distant cousins of the notorious Black Widow, which is not found in the UK. In fact, only one of the 'false widow' species has a bite that could be harmful to humans: the Steatoda Nobilis. These spiders were first recorded in the UK in 1879 on the South coast, and have gradually migrated north as temperatures have risen. 

It is true that recent sightings indicate that the species has spread across the country in recent years, but they have been commonplace in houses and gardens for many years, without any significant rise in the number of reported bites.

Of about 670 species of spider resident in Britain, only 12 are capable of inflicting a bite on a human. It can be hard to verify that the bite was from a spider, and if it was, that the spider was definitely a false widow. According to the BAS, there are a number of similar-looking spiders in the UK which could, at a glance, be mistaken for Steatoda Nobilis false widows, all of which are harmless garden spiders. They include the following species: Zygiella x-notata, Metellina species, Amaurobius species and Araneus diadematus.

Like Black Widows, the female of the species is more deadly than the male - in fact, male false widow spiders do not bite. The female false widow Steatoda Nobilis is approximately 14mm long and dark brown in colour with a bulbous body. They will only bite if threatened, and generally live in cracks or holes, for example beneath windowsills or within walls.

Nevertheless, if you are bitten by a spider and experience painful symptoms, we do recommend that you seek medical advice as soon as possible. If you think you have found a false widow in your house, experts recommend that you remove it in a humane fashion.