Beware false widows as heatwave drives spiders into homes and victims left with rotting wounds and pus-filled blisters

Beware false widows as heatwave drives spiders into homes and victims left with rotting wounds and pus-filled blisters

07/15/2021

FALSE widow spider numbers could be about to creep up, experts warn, thanks to the coming summer heatwave.

The caution comes after horrific recent cases of bites leading to rotting wounds, excruciating pain, and even fights for survival.


There are several species of false widow that live in the UK, with the noble false widow believed to have the most toxic bite of any spider native in Britain.

They were first found in the south of England over 150 years ago – but they've since spread northwards as the population has grown.

Now interactions with the spiders, which like being in warm houses, could be about to spike as temperatures climb this week.

"The breeding season will tend more to be in the summer months when it’s warmer," Dr Christopher Terrell-Nield, an entomologist at Nottingham Trent University, tells The Sun.

"There are two generations during the course of the summer, which would bulk up the numbers."

Agonising infection

One suspected false widow victim ended up with a horrendous flesh-eating wound – FIVE MONTHS after being bitten.

Carl Jones, 26, baffled doctors when he showed them pus-filled blisters on his arm in January.

But lab technician Carl from Milton Keynes, Bucks., simply had his wound dressed and was sent on his way.

Over time, the wound became infected and Carl ended up being rushed to A&E when a colleague noticed how ill he looked at work.

"I was dripping with sweat," Carl said.

"I experienced lots of sweating and fevers.

"I underwent investigations for Borrelia, TB and eventually skin cancer as the wound wasn't healing after five months."

False widow spider

False widows are sometimes confused for black widow spiders.

Both have a similar dark-coloured, globular body.

The name false widow is given to species in the genus Steatoda, with six of these species living permanently in the UK.

The noble false widow is most commonly reported and it is the largest of the three most common species. It reaches a body length of between 8.5 and 11 millimetres.

The noble false widow was first recorded in the UK in the 1870s – likely a stowaway on cargo ships from its native Madeira and Canary Islands.

In homes they often prefer to skulk in kitchens and conservatories.

Their webs are a tangle of threads, a characteristic of all false widow species.

Their webs are usually suspended at least 1.5 metres off the ground to allow the spiders to hunt flying insects.

The pattern on their bodies is often described as 'skull-shaped'.

Source: Natural History Museum

He was unsuccessfully treated with antibiotics before medics cut out the infected area of his wound in June.

It was only when he recently found a noble false widow in his bathroom that he believed it was to blame.

"I looked into cases around Milton Keynes and I saw a news article about an increase of false widows in the area," Carl said.

"I just put two and two together really."

He added: "I can't stand spiders. I won't be going anywhere near them now."

Fight for life

Carl was lucky compared with the teenager who needed emergency surgery to save her from life-threatening sepsis.

Abby Tannetta, 18, was bitten as she slept in her parents' caravan in Wales in May – the stabbing pain woke her, and she saw the spider crawling away from the bed.

She ran from her room screaming, but her real horror didn't begin until a few days later as the painful bite under her arm got progressively worse.

"I was feeling really dizzy and weak, I was boiling, I felt like my heart was racing and the lump had grown even more to the size of a golfball," Abby said.

"I collapsed as the doctors were rushing me into surgery but thankfully they managed to do it otherwise I could have got sepsis which you can die from.

"I was already really scared of spiders before this but now I'm too scared to even go back to the caravan and the sight of any tiny spider makes me feel sick and terrified."

You just don't think it will happen to you until it does

Luckily doctors were able to drain the infected area and remove the lump.

Abby also managed to trap the spider that bit her with a Tupperware box and she took pictures of it for her own investigation.

"I think it was a false widow spider," Abby said.

"I've done some research and found other people in Wales who have been bit by them and in the same place under their arm as well.

"My photo of the spider matches the markings of false widows I've seen online too.

"People always say that spiders won't hurt you, that you're much bigger than them, but this shows they can.

"You just don't think it will happen to you until it does."

'Excruciating pain'

One couple knows all too well that false widow bites really do happen – often with painful consequences.

Married couple Philip Oakley and Olivia Yip have been repeatedly bitten after they took over an old warehouse in East Sussex that's crawling with the critters.

In the five years they've owned the property, lurking spiders have sunk their venomous fangs into the pair three times –most recently biting 58-year-old Philip on the middle finger last month, leaving him crying in pain.

Olivia, 38, suffered ulcerated bites on her leg and waist that needed daily hospital dressing changes in 2018 and 2019 and took months to recover from.

I was crying with pain and they gave me morphine and said I had to go to a specialist hospital for treatment

Despite fumigating the warehouse three times, the spiders have persisted in the warehouse.

After his most recent bite, Philip's finger ballooned painfully and he needed surgery twice to scoop out the infected tissue.

"I had to go to A&E at about midnight on a Sunday with excruciating pain, I think the swelling was so great it was making my knuckle dislocate," Philip said.

"I was crying with pain and they gave me morphine and said I had to go to a specialist hospital for treatment.

"It was all quite surprising really because I initially thought I was going to go to hospital and come home after an hour."

After a week-long stay in hospital, Philip had to do daily physio exercises to regain movement and grip in his hand.

Summer surge

While false widows have been in England for well over a century, reports of their bites are believed to have increased as the population grows.

And with warm weather on the way, their activity is expected to increase too.

"Warm weather in and of itself doesn’t necessarily cause an increase in the false widow population," Dr Terrell-Nield explains.

"What it does potentially do is cause an increase in the population of prey.

"The warmer it is, the more insects you tend to get, their life cycles are shorter, they become more active. And the same, of course, happens with the spiders. 

"Everything gets speeded up. Instead of the offspring taking, say, four months to emerge from an egg sac, they might only take two months because of increasing temperature."

There are two generations during the course of the summer, which would bulk up the numbers

In the UK, too, warmer weather outside usually means higher temperatures in homes too.

"We don’t go in massively for air conditioning in domestic houses in this country," Dr Terrell-Nield says.

“So if it’s a hot day and you’ve got all the windows open and more insects are coming into the house, any resident spiders will have a better feed."

If you think you've spotted a false widow in your house, Dr Terrell-Nield advises photographing the spider and seeking confirmation from experts online.

Pest controllers’ advice

“As spiders are able to squeeze themselves through tiny gaps and holes, it’s nearly impossible to completely proof your house against them, but of course closing doors and windows will help keep them at bay,” Berwyn Evans of Rentokil Pest Control tells The Sun.

“As with most pests, the best way to control spiders is to limit their food source. This includes clearing away any dead flies, or any other small, crawling insects.” 

Here are five top tips to make your home as unwelcome as possible to our eight legged friends:

1.     Vacuum regularly – high and low

Make sure that you vacuum the sheltered spots too, such as beneath worktops and behind cupboards and sofas

2.     Remove noticeable webs

You should do this on a regular basis, and remember to check the corners of the ceiling and in the corners of picture frames and mirrors

3.     Fill gaps

Where possible, make sure that you fill in the gaps between walls, pipework and under the doors which can help to deter entry

4.     Remove sheltering sites

Spiders will look to tuck themselves away in your firewood piles, garden bags and any compost heaps that you have

5.     Deter all insects

The best way to do this is to control your lighting – insects are drawn to light and flies and moths are ideal spider prey

Source: Rentokil

But Dr Terrell-Nield says the main thing is not to be alarmed by the "tiny fraction" of false widow bite patients who suffer extreme symptoms.

"Let’s face it: every year, about half a dozen people die from wasp and bee stings because of severe reactions," he says.

"As far as I know, false widows haven’t killed anyone in this country."





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