What is a false widow spider and should you be scared?

The most dangerous arachnid of them all is a black widow, but there’s also such a thing as a false widow. Here’s what you need to know.

We’re all aware that spiders can be dangerous, and the most notorious of all is the black widow which can be distinguished by the red markings on its black body, and of course its highly venomous bite.

But there’s another creepy crawly that’s been sighted this summer (black widows are found primarily in hot countries) and it goes by a similar name - false widow spider - partly because its globular shaped body closely resembles the black widow.

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What’s the difference?

The difference is false widow spiders belong to the genus Steatoda, while black widows belong to a different genus (Lactrodectus).

The Steadoda Nobilis is one of the largest with a maximum body length of 14mm for females and 10mm for males. The legs are a reddish-orange colour its round, brown body has cream coloured markings.

Where did false widows come from?

False widow spiders are thought to have landed on our shores approximately 100 years ago when they were accidently shipped in fruit crates from Madeira and the Canary Islands, and they’ve been increasing in numbers ever since.

When could I spot them?

They’re nocturnal so usually only come out at night and, up until now, they’ve been most commonly seen in the south of the country. However, reported sightings in regions such as Norfolk suggest they’re moving northwards.

How dangerous are they?

The false widow is believed to be the UK’s most venomous spider but the good news is, they’re harmless and their bite is compared to that of a wasp or bee sting with similar symptoms such as redness and swelling. If for some reason you were bitten, you’d be able to see faint puncture marks from its fangs but they’re not aggressive and only attack if they feel threatened.

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Where do they live?

These small brown arachnids like to spin their webs in warm, dry places where they’re likely not to be disturbed, so it’s common sense not to go near them if you spot one.

How should I treat a bite?

If for some reason one gets caught in your clothes or you unintentionally prod one and get bitten, the NHS recommends managing the symptoms same as an insect sting, and making sure the bite doesn’t get infected. Clean the wound thoroughly, an antiseptic cream will prevent infection and an ice pack will reduce swelling. If in doubt, or if the symptoms worsen (such as having a severe reaction to the venom) then seek medical advice.

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