(Photo by Ian Burt)
There’s a new terror in town, hiding in our respectable gardens, sheds and homes, set to turn our lifestyles upside down. A killing machine forged by the darkest forces of nature is stalking us like prey from our own backyards. It is deadly, small, silent, and it seems very likely that it will change the way in which UK residents live their lives – or even the length of those lives – forever.
Or at least, that’s been the verdict of the recent tabloid frenzy surrounding the fearsome and infamous “false widow spider”.
Recent reports about this mysterious creature have ranged all the way from “Family Cat Left Fighting For Its Life” (Daily Mail) right up to the more terrifying (perhaps “equally terrifying” for cat lovers) “False Widow Spider Made My Leg Explode” (Daily Star) . As if all of this wasn’t already bad enough, we also hear that these demonic arachnids are on the warpath and are actively coming after us with hearts full of grim fury. “50 False Widows Invade Young Family’s Home” reports The Mirror, while Sky News lets us know that they are even assaulting the sacred institutions which make up our society – “False Widow Outbreak Closes School”.
Since they seem to love invading our private property, it looks like we’ve come to the point where the cardinal pleasure of having a garden (in other words, being able to actually go out into your garden and acknowledge its existence) is under threat, as families are too scared to let their children outdoors due to sightings of false widow armies mobilizing outside of civilian homes.
All that is, of course, not even to mention the dreaded garden shed – a once proud structure which has now seemingly been transformed into the primary breeding ground and planning HQ of the dreaded false widow hordes. As this woman’s tale of horror at being charged down by a renegade platoon of the spiders shows, they’re not even above attacking mothers in front of their children. Of course, if you feel like it’s worth defying the arachnid legions and continuing to reap the many benefits of having a garden shed, then making sure that you have a high quality one which has been effectively spider-proofed can’t hurt.
(Photo by Garry Knight)
Strange that these creatures are suddenly so angry at us after having already shared this island with the ordinary citizens of mainland Britain for over 150 years now.
Yes, you read that right. Despite the recent news explosion concerning these arachnids and their cruel deeds (the type of news explosion which easily creates the impression that this is a newly arrived invading host, which has suddenly appeared on British shores from the abyss) the false widow spider has in fact been well-established in Albion since before any of us were alive.
It is certainly true that they are spreading outside their usual range in the south of Britain (some reports now even place them as far north as Scotland), but is this really a sign that the imposter-widows are suddenly “taking over” and coming after us wherever they can?
“No” seems to be the answer from most experts, who suggest that the greater apparent presence of these spiders is really down to nothing more extraordinary or threatening than recent cheerful weather. As this public news page from the Natural History Museum points out, the increasing public profile of the false widow seems to go along hand-in-hand with the increase in temperature which the UK has been experiencing in recent years:
“Sightings of the noble false widow spider continue to come from further afield, and it is likely that climate change, and the warmer winters this brings, has contributed to this spider’s continued colonisation of the UK.”
Since some forecasters are now warning that we are right on the verge of experiencing Ice-Age blizzards and the coldest winter in decades, it looks as though this entire problem may even end up taking care of itself without our involvement at all, as mother nature reaches out and takes back her arachnid legions.
So, the presence of this species in the UK (not to mention their population increase) isn’t much of a mystery. But that alone probably won’t do much to put most homeowners at ease about the idea of these spiders living in their gardens (or trying to invade their homes). Especially if the false widow is in fact capable of killing small animals and severely wounding people.
Well, at this point there is good news and bad news.
The bad news is that the false widow is most likely Britain’s most poisonous spider.
The good news is: that’s not saying much (this isn’t Australia, after all). In reality, and despite some horror stories from the media, the vast majority of false widow bites prove to be no more severe than a bee or wasp sting. Even for those who experience more severe reactions to the bite there has never been a recorded fatality linked to the spider in the UK, and the acutest symptoms tend to be no worse than swelling, throbbing pain and tingling.
It may also be reassuring for most us to keep in mind that, despite their growing numbers and their love of good, honest people’s homes, there have only been 30 confirmed IAS reports of false widow bites over a 16 year period. Not quite the butchers of mankind we’ve been hearing about, then. Essentially bees and wasps are far more of a terror than these spiders. We’re just more used to the idea of having them buzzing around us constantly.
(Photo by Polimerek)
So where does this leave the man or woman who just wants to enjoy his or her home and garden without being bothered by a new pest, dangerous or not?
Well, the first step to dealing with the false widow is acceptance. That is – accept that these spiders enjoy your property almost as much as you do, and will tend to naturally gravitate towards warm indoor environments, or the nice balanced ecosystem of an adjoining garden.
The second step is pretty much to just to leave them alone. They are considered to be completely apathetic towards humans, even quite shy. They hide away in holes, nooks and crannies close to their webs during the day, and come out at night. They are also known to remain pretty much stationary by their web for their entire lifespan.
The third step, if you do in fact get bitten, is to wash the wounded area with soap and water – maybe apply a cold compress to minimise swelling, and then just relax. If your symptoms seem to increase dramatically beyond just a bit of an itchy and swollen bite, then don’t attempt self-medication but instead go to A&E just to be on the safe-side.
With this knowledge at your disposal, you should be empowered enough to survive the coming “epidemic”.