Tuesday, 22 October 2013

False widow fever reaches ludicrous proportions

I always thought Little Miss Muffet’s reaction was slightly extreme, leaping off her fabled tuffet at the sight of a spider.

The plump 19th century schoolgirl tossed her bowl of curdled milk aside when the tiny arachnid descended to make her acquaintance.

Foolish child, but it’s just a nursery rhyme and no real harm came to her or the spider - I suppose you could say it had a happy ending.

Sadly the same can’t be said of the furore which our much maligned eight-legged friends seem to have stirred up over the past couple of weeks.

An unhappy ending is looking likely as equally foolish people whip themselves into a frenzy over the appearance of the apparently “deadly” false widow spider.

The country is under attack from a ferocious, fanged villain armed with deadly poison and intent of rampaging through our homes killing everything in sight, according to reports.

It has been responsible for “almost” lost limbs, children “nearly” dying, and victims “narrowly avoiding” deadly allergic reactions.

In other words - it hasn’t actually killed anyone.

I don’t think they are that keen to make our acquaintance as they are non-aggressive, solitary creatures who really would prefer to be left alone.

That has not stopped an angry backlash from parents terrified their little darlings will be maimed for life if they come within 10 feet of one.

The whole thing so ridiculous that it is difficult not to tell this story with a tone of mockery.

But there is a serious side which was brought to my attention by “terrified” parent Nicole Whelan, who has reportedly been killing up to 25 false widows a day as they take over her home.

She proudly poses with a bottle of bathroom cleaner (curious) and a fish slice ready to defend her family against these deadly intruders.

Other photos of her handiwork show a beaker containing the bodies of several dead spiders - sadly they all appear to be harmless British garden spiders.

I must at this point state Miss Whelan claims there have been inaccuracies in the press about her alleged war against the creatures.

She none the less admits to the Swindon Advertiser to killing spiders in her back garden because she fears for the safety of her two-year-old daughter.

And so the terror machine roars into furious action triggering headlines of “killer spider invasion” and “deadly widow takes over British Isles”. (PIC: VIctor Habbick)

What worries me about all this is Miss Whelan will not be the only one to take to the back garden armed with insect spray.

Sadly I know people who are urging others to follow her lead and spray anything with more than two legs, regardless of the devastating impact on the environment.

I would at this point issue my own plea for people not to do this - really, don’t go anywhere near the garden with insecticide.

If you spot a spider in the house and feel you simply cannot share the same bricks and mortar, use a glass and a piece of card to remove it humanely - this is the official advice.

So what is the real story?

Well, the false widow has been spotted in the South-east of the UK, thought to have come over from hotter climes on boats of fruit and now trundling further north due to climate change.

They are a relative of the more feared black widow spider, found in parts of Europe, America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

But the black widow is far less deadly than her reputation suggests, and the false widow -Steatoda nobilis - even less so.

In fact, experts recommend that if you see one just leave it alone or move it out of the house humanely.

If you are bitten, which is unlikely as the spiders only bite when they feel threatened, then treat with antihistamines and painkillers.

They advise not to clog up the emergency services with panicked 999 calls, and don’t kill them.

Spraying insecticides has a devastating effects on the environment, it gets into the food chain and works its way through insects, birds and larger mammals.

Killing spiders in the garden is simply unnecessary and downright stupid.

You will also harm all sorts of native species which live peacefully in homes and gardens around the country playing an essential role to the habitat.

Do I need to say it again? Killing garden wildlife indiscriminately is foolish  - so please don’t do it.

In an interview in the Lincolnshire Echo spider expert Jim Tweedle says: “None of the spiders found in homes in this country are dangerous.

“People will find lots in their house because it is cold outside.

“The best way to remove them if you don’t want them in your home is with a glass and a piece of card.

“Simply scoop them up and put them into your garden.”

Good advice.

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