|Steatoda nobilis with spiderlings in our garden storage box|
of research that grab my attention. As well as blogging, I undertake professional ecological & wildlife surveys covering
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Thursday, 24 October 2013
The (not really) attack of the (not actually) killer spiders!
Over the last few weeks, there has been a flurry of lurid headlines about 'killer spiders' and bites leading to horrible consequences, for example this one which was actually due to a streptococcal infection rather than spider venom - and of course infections can get into any skin puncture, but the tabloid fervour doesn't bother to mention this. In reality the spiders are the false widow Steatoda nobilis which bites few people - the species is not aggressive and there are no confirmed reports of anyone being hospitalised due to the venom. There can be bite symptoms such as chest pains and tingling in the fingers but nothing like the horror-stories in some sections of the media. Sadly, the media frenzy has led to people squashing them on sight and even closing a school where they were found - a major over-reaction in my opinion due to ill-informed health & safety officials being influenced by stories of poisoning and 'infestations'. Yes, it may be Britain's most venomous spider, but there really isn't much competition for that accolade - we have nothing like the Sydney funnel-web here. As it happens, I have one living in my garden storage box, and she's really quite pretty and although she tends her spiderlings carefully is quite timid and curls up behind her web if I point the camera too close. She does not leap at me, fangs clashing and venom dripping. Then again, a headline like 'mostly harmless spider occasionally causes minor irritation' wouldn't sell many papers...
Fortunately there are more reasoned sources of information such as the Natural History Museum who get a lot of calls about this spider, and some rather better reporting about why they aren't anything to be scared of after all such as here and here. Yes, they are spreading (probably due to climate change) but have been in Britain since the 19th century and have been expanding their range significantly for 15-20 years - the 'outbreak' over the last few weeks is clearly more to do with awareness with more people noticing them (and panicking) following the 'killer spider' headlines. Still, it was interesting to get an unexpected call from the Guardian yesterday wanting to interview me about the spider - I was happy to do so, and the resulting article is here. The invertebrate conservation charity Buglife has an excellent page about spider bites, including advice about what to do in the unlikely event you are bitten and develop symptoms. So, happy spidering, please don't squash them, or have nightmares about them - they'll eat plenty of your garden and household pests if you let them.