False Widow sightings in Wexford. Should we panic?

Over the past few weeks or so, sightings of the False Widow spider in Ireland have been doing the rounds on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. In County Wexford alone, there have been several reports (and rumours) of people discovering this “deadly” spider inside their homes and garden sheds. Obviously, in a country where venomous insects are not the norm, these kind of reports have a tendency to spread panic and fear.

To make things even worse, a number of tabloid newspapers and websites have repeatedly sensationalised the spider’s presence on our shores. Insect specialist Stuart Hine, who works at the Natural History Museum in London, has spoken out about this kind of sensationalism in the past. “Of course I also explain the great value of spiders and how rare the event of spider bite in the UK actually is. I also always explain that up to 12 people die from wasp/bee stings in the UK each year and we do not panic so much about wasps and bees – But this never makes it past editing.”

Should I worry?

Firstly, the False Widow spider isn’t new to Ireland’s shores, despite what many people have been saying. It actually arrived in the 1990s and the early 2000s, after a string of mild winters. Not that it really matters, of course; considering the fact that equally-venomous spiders such as the Cupboard Spider have been living in Ireland since the 1800s.

Secondly, bites from False Widow spiders are actually very rare. If you are unlucky enough to be bitten by one, then you’ll be happy to know that their bite is actually pretty harmless. The False Widow’s bite is on the same level of a bee sting or a wasp thing. It’ll be sore, but some baking soda or some toothpaste will take the sting right out of it. It is worth noting that its bite will only threaten your life if you are actually allergic to it (if you are allergic to bee stings, then you’ll probably be allergic to False Widow bites, as their acid is extremely similar).

Lastly: Over 20 years have passed since a person in Australia died of a spider bite. Just think about that for a moment. This is a country that is full of venomous spiders such as the Sydney funnel-web spider and the Redback spider. And yet we’re all worried about a spider that inflicts the same amount of pain as a bee sting?