The False Widow Spider

The false widow spider has become a bit of a tabloid sensation recently. It is cited as being Britain’s most dangerous spider, the most poisonous spider in the UK and even potentially deadly.
False Widow Spider (Steatoda nobilis)

So why, with these fearsome credentials, is it that a spider known to have inhabited the UK for over 150 years was virtually unknown up until a couple of years ago? Well it seems that the false widow spider is increasing its range from the south of Britain with sightings reported as far north as Scotland. A milder climate may be responsible for this trend.

With recent news stories such as a school having to close due to a false widow infestation and a grandfather ending up in intensive care after a single bite it is little wonder the spider has gained some notoriety.

Why the name?

The name false widow spider refers to spiders of the family Steatoda, usually Steatoda nobilis, the noble false widow. It comes from the fact that the false widow bears a resemblance to the black widow spider, renowned as one of the world’s deadliest spiders. The spiders are actually related, both coming from the Latrodectinae sub-family, however, the true widow spiders have much more medically significant venom.

Widow spiders get there name from the habit the female black widow spider has of sometimes eating the male spider after mating. Whilst they have been known to be imported into the UK with cargo they have never become established owing to the damp climate. It has been reported that in the wild the false widow spider has been known to prey on the black widow spider.

Whilst it is the noble false widow spider that is generally referred to there are several other species of false widow spider (Steatoda) that can also be found in the British Isles. Most common of these is Steatoda grossa, the cupboard spider.

Where did they come from?

There are six species of false widow spiders (Steatoda) that are now considered native to Britain. Four of these are true natives and have been here for many hundreds of years. The others are relatively recent introductions that have gained a foothold in the UK ecosystem.

The most common of these are S. bipunctata, S. grossa and S. nobilisS. bipunctata (rabbit hutch spider) is not known to bite and is extremely common throughout Britain. S. grossa (cupboard spider) is resembles the black widow spiders more than the others and also packs a painful bite. This spider has long been considered native to the UK and until recently attracted very little attention.

The false widow spider that has received most of the attention is S. nobilis, the noble false widow. It is probably due to its slightly larger size and the fact that it prefers a warmer indoor environment making it more likely to come into contact with humans.
It is believed that this spider arrived in Britain in 1879 on a crate of bananas carried from the Canary Islands. It is only since the 1980s that the spider appears to have spread beyond Devon with sightings all along the south coast of England. More recently S. nobilis has been recorded as far north as the Scottish border.

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9 Comments

  1. What to do i have these in my house do i just leave them alone. Because i have been catching them and throwing them outside.

    1. Problem is they like it inside so they’ll probably just come straight back in. If you don’t want to kill them make sure you put them a fair distance from your house.

      1. I’ve just discovered 15 +nobel false widow spiders at the bottom of my side entrance to my house each with its own huge web and very large I’m not phased by spiders it I watched arachnophobia last week and they freaked me out need to move or exterminate them cause as they are blocking my way to garage any ideas best way to relocate ect and is my cat at risk thankyou Daniel

  2. Hi
    I have a garden studio (shed!) and since last September a false widow spider has taken up residence just above the door … she’s disappeared a couple of times but always comes back to the same spot … I’ve never been keen on spiders but this one is rather fascinating and I’ve become a bit obsessed with her. I’ve taken quite a few photos of her but we leave each other alone and I’ve had no reason to evict her!
    So anyway, the reason I’m here is because she’s just had babies … a lot of babies … they’re tiny wee things and they’re all still clustered around the sac. It’s only been a couple of days, she’s obviously protecting them and so she’s constantly on high alert … and I’m even more fascinated … but question is, will they gradually disperse and find their own space or will they hang around … ?! I’m not sure how I feel about sharing my shed with so many of them … It’s easy to live in harmony with one false widow who never ventures far … but hundreds of them?! I don’t want to harm them but I’m a bit concerned … am I overreacting or should I be doing something? For their sake as well as mine?!
    Sorry for the epic message … I hope you have some advice for me! Thank you! x

    1. Hi Louise. I live in Ireland and have one in my hose pipe. I think it has also had babies. I read somewhere the best way to deter them is to spray white vinegar near them. The scent will push them away but hopefully not toward your house. Hope this helps 🙂 Cillian

    2. I wouldn’t worry too much. They’ll likely take to the wind and travel far away, like at the end of “Charlotte’s Web”

  3. I found one of these under my husbands pillow and I’m afraid it went up the hoover! I am petrified of any spiders and particularly these ones, it’s the first we have had inside the house and hope it is the last!!! I use peppermint oil to keep spiders at bay and this usually works, that one obviously liked the smell!,

  4. Just one I could live with. But a couple of years back I found a nest of them in our garage, an adult (probably female) and a few dozen babies. We live on the edge of the New Forest, and this year they have bred in huge numbers and I have spent the past 2 days dealing with them. About 20 large adults (now past tense) and probably hundreds of babies each about 1mm in diameter. Commercial sprays have helped, and I’m really hoping this has got rid of them before I garage my car for the winter, a Fiat Spider of all things !

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