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False Black Widow Spider puts Britain on 'Web, er, Red Alert
A Nation of Miss Muffets!
Pass me the curds and whey!
Many people in the UK are rather fond of spiders, if a little nervous around the larger ones, like our "Giant House Spider," a creature of up to 4 inches in diameter. The arrival of one of these on a cold winter's eve is likely to set the kids screaming and running from the room, closely followed by mum, the llhasa and dad until he can grasp a little control, peering around the yard broom. By then, the immigrant, completely terrified himself, has hidden somewhere causing the house to be on alert all night.
(These visitors are completely harmless to us and are usually looking for a mate...perhaps the llhasa looked like a possibility).
We have not been accustomed to living with venomous arachnids in Britain, although we have heard tales of red-eyed and hairy monsters leaping from the bananas in Tescos and, alien-like, attaching themselves to someone's jugular. We have had a few of these banana spiders and they are occasionally one of the truly life-threatening species, like the Brazilian Wanderer, but no one has died yet, to my knowledge, unless it was from a heart attack caused by sheer terror...it can be unnerving to be trying to select that juicy banana off the shelf only to see a 1/4 pound Tarantula pulling on the other end!
The trouble with today's world, of course, are shipping containers and all the goods transported around the world. We may find in the not-too-distant future that many venomous creatures do make a home in the UK - if they can stand the climate. And many non-venomous creatures, too, like the many varieties of cockroaches now showing up in the shipping sheds.
I digress. Our little spider today is the S. Noblis, a member of the Steatoda genus, of which we know of 120 species world-wide. The arachnid is sometimes known as "The False Widow, or False Black Widow Spider," as it does resemble the far more deadly Black Widow, so well known in the Americas, (but rarely causing problems as it is quite inoffensive if left alone).
The S. Noblis arrives, not from the steamy depths of the Amazon, but from the sunlit shores of the Canary Islands well to the south of us, off the coast of Africa, from where it probably originated - after all, we all did!
For many years the tiny arrival stayed close to the south coast of the UK, but is now seen to be making its way north where nipping a Scott in a kilt, sans underwear, in the family jewels, might be a personal ambition.
This week, our news channels have featured several people being bitten by S Noblis, a couple have had a severe reaction to the venom, although the effects do not generally last more than a few days. The spiders are shy and non-aggressive and bites are caused by trapping or squeezing one accidentally, or even sticking fingers in the creatures web.
The spiders are Widow-like, very dark coloration with a white line and other marks - but no red fiddle shaped design on the underside like the true Black Widow; the body is round and bean-like. Curiously, although somewhat like the Black Widows, members of the Steatona actually prey on their more venomous cousins.
Doctors are calling the effects of the venom, "Steatodism," and are treating with topical agents and reassurance to the victims. The true Black Widow envenonation is called Lactrodectism and can, in rare cases, be fatal.
Most spiders have poor eyesight and the S. Noblis is no exception, identifying its prey - and dangers - by the vibrations it receives.
If you see one of these spiders, it should be carefully trapped under a glass and paper and put in a small box or jar and taken to a vet or your council health department as we really don't want a contagion of them. (Can I see readers grinning, "Yeah, right, and fingering the Hoover!"). I would probably take them to a wooded area away from houses and release them as I am an arachnophile, but the first option is the one of a good citizen I suppose.