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A Spinster's Tale

13 November 2012 | Posted in Author , Jess Price , spiders , Wildlife Advice

Author Jess Price

false widow spider / Jess Price
false widow spider / Jess Price

Recently I discovered a false widow spider strolling across my bed. I knew it was a false widow as soon as I saw it. Smaller then a 1p piece, they have a distinctive globular shaped body and a glossy brown/black finish.

False widows are so called because of their general resemblance to the notorious black widow spiders. In fact false widows and true black widows belong in the same taxonomic family, the Theridiidae or comb-footed spiders. Luckily false widows are nowhere near as venomous.

There are six species of false widow spider that occur in the UK, but only three are commonly seen around houses; Steatoda grossa, S. bipunctata and S. nobilis. These species are synanthropic, which means they live near humans, benefiting from the artificial habitats we create such as sheds, garages, porches and conservatories.

These first two species are native and although they can bite, bites are not common. S. nobilis however, only arrived in the UK around 100 years ago and is reported to be more venomous. According to the Natural History Museum’s insect and spider identification and advisory service, S. nobilis

‘is probably the UK’s most venomous spider but bites are rare and usually result from handling the spider roughly or from a spider being trapped between clothing and skin’.

False widow bites are reported as usually being no worse than a bee or wasp sting. However some people can have a more severe reaction to S. nobilis including swelling and numbness so I was interested to know what species was on my bed.

The only accurate way to identify a spider is to look at the reproductive organs under a microscope. Not having one to hand, I sent photos to a Sussex-based spider expert and his best bet was an immature female S. grossa. The photos show three chevron type markings running down the middle of the abdomen which is typical but not exclusive to S. grossa. In mature females these often merge into a single large blotch and sometimes the markings become so dark that they are barely visible.

I like spiders. They are interesting and useful additions to a household, but I do object to one being on my bed. I can only assume that this female was looking for a new nesting site and had been lifted onto my bed on boxes that I had been sorting. S. grossa normally create tangled webs low down in the dark nooks and cracks of walls. I put her outside next to the shed so hopefully she’ll be able to find a suitable place for her web away from my bedroom.

false widow spiders are the size of a 1p coin / Jess Price
false widow spiders are the size of a 1p coin / Jess Price


  • paul:

    17 Nov 2012 02:46:18

    I was bitten by one of these little things at home in West Kent. Severe swelling which was not properly diagnosed despite two visits to A&E after the local doctor said they were not equipped to deal with the swelling. The pressure from the swelling ruptured one of my tendon and six months later i had to have surgery on my hand to repair it. I had been moving a log pile lots of bark pieces and leaves, but because i am an accountant the doctors assumed it was not a spider. It took my Mother who lives in australia to put us right!

  • 24 Nov 2012 23:48:06

    Hi, very nice spider. Great pet! I like its silky body.

  • Chris Lavis:

    17 Oct 2013 13:45:50

    I live in South Devon and have been bitten by a False Black Widow twice! The first time was will I was removing old boarding in my garage when something bit me on the neck. I knocked the offending spider on to the floor and looking at it realized what it was from an article I had seen in the news paper, I did start to feel a bit dizzy but after a bit of a rest the symptoms went away with no lasting effects. During my refurbishment of the garage I did find and identify several moe!!

    The second bit was at night in bed, there is a velux window directly over my side of the bed and I felt some thing drop on me but could not find it, I did not want to disturb my wife my switching the light on. When I laid back down I had a searing pain in my back a bit like a wasps sting! Jumped out of bed light on saw the spider picked it up in a tissue and in the bin.The next morning after a painful and restless night my wife could see two distinct puncture marks on my back with a red area around them but once again(I must be lucky) no lasting effects. The spider was still alive in the tissue in the bin and I put it outside after identifying it I can’t remember if I took photographs as it was a few years ago will have to look.

    Chris Lavis

    Ps I found the photo.

  • m.bradley:

    17 Oct 2013 16:51:02

    i also got bitten by one of these, on the arm a couple of years ago, whilst prunning a wall shrub against a house. my whole arm swelled up for a couple of days & i experienced numbness in the arm followed by extreme itchiness as the swelling subsided. i didnt bother going to the doctors or hospital as i knew there was nothing they could do! these spiders are far more common than people realise.

  • John F:

    17 Oct 2013 17:01:09

    I live in true black widow country, the Canadian west coast. Black widows are common here and I probably have several hundred in the crawl space under my old wooden house. We take precautions, I always wear gloves when getting fire wood and start by dropping each piece on the ground before taking it inside for example. In spite of the large numbers in forty years as a family doctor I have seen very few spider bites and even fewer that were in any way serious (requiring prolonged and complex wound care). I understand that further south in the United States, the venom is stronger, but certainly in this part of the world, black widows have a seriously over-rated reputation.

  • Mrs S:

    18 Oct 2013 04:32:18

    @ Mr Lavis- the photo you have provided is not a false widow spider. It looks something more along the lines of Amaurobius similis.

  • Howard Hodges:

    30 Mar 2014 12:15:25

    I have just had one of these crawling on my shoulder after leaning out of my front window here in Great Yarmouth.

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