False Widow Spider in the UK - Facebook Rumour
Other Keywords: Steatoda Nobilis
"This spider is reported to now be in the UK and it bites with venom....it is aptly named the "False Widow" its bite isnt as powerful as its cousin in Oz but can lead to amputations if not treated please share this round and be cautious if you see one thats similar"
The above image is circulating Facebook warning recipients of a spider known as the "False Widow Spider" which is "now in the UK". The message asserts that whilst not as powerful as its Australian cousin, its bite can still lead to amputations.
Spider hoaxes are popular within social media as they exploit a popular fear, but in this case the spider described in the message is genuine, although the description - whilst mostly true - is somewhat alarmist and misleading. The "False Widow" spider in this case refers to the Steatoda Nobilis which is – like the message states – a real spider that is found in the South of the UK. The photo itself appears to have been taken by Ian Kirk from Broadstone who caught the spider in his conservatory and uploaded it to his flickr account in 2010.
However when reading the message above one could be led to believe that the spider has only recently been reported to have beeen found in the UK but in reality the spider has been known to be in the UK for well over a hundred years, believed to possibly have arrived hidden in banana imports at Torquay.
As for the bite itself, the Steatoda nobilis is capable of biting humans and the bite – just like several other species of spider in the UK – can be powerful enough to pierce human skin. However a bite victim is likely to experience mild pain or tingling in the infected area and should be okay after a few hours or days. An article from the Natural History of Museum notes –
Reports from those bitten describe a certain amount of pain, which often radiates along the limb or part of the body where bitten, and often a degree of swelling in the affected part. Some describe fever and a general feeling of being unwell. These symptoms may last for a couple of days but the total effect is unlikely to be more serious than that.
Of course there are exceptions. As with all insect bites or stings there can be a minority of people who are more sensitive to bites or even allergic. For example Catherine Coombs, who almost lost her hand when she was allegedly bitten on the arm by the Steatoda nobilis after suffering an extremely adverse reaction. Another story from the UK tells the tale of Chris Galton who collapsed after apparent multiple bites from the same spider. However neither case was confirmed to be a direct result of a spider bite and these cases do not demonstrate how venomous the Steatoda nobilis is, instead they show how allergic the recipient to the bite apparently was, much like being allergic to a bee sting. Further research shows several other cases of extremely bad reactions to spider bites in the UK, even bites from common house spiders.
It should be noted that these cases are extremely rare and we were unable to find any credible cases from modern history that detail any amputations from wild spider bites occurring within the UK. The vast majority of bite victims from the False Widow spider, or indeed any spider bite in the UK, will only experience mild symptoms.
But of course always treat such spiders with caution because after all no one wants to be bitten by them and if you do feel ill after a spider bite then make sure you see your doctor straight away.
Here is some advice about spider bites from the UK NHS.
UPDATE: October 2013 sees plenty of coverage about the Fake Widow spider since media reports suggest numbers are rising in the south of England. Whilst this appears to be true (some blaming the change in climate as the reason) the information contained within this article is still accurate. With that said watch out for alarmist tabloid headlines such as "rampage of killer spiders" and other similar titles aimed at selling copies of newspapers as opposed to accurately telling the truth!
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