herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Venemous spider is a fast breeder - and it's invading our homes

False widow spider
False widow spider

A venemous spider that can inflict a painful bite is rapidly taking over Ireland, say researchers.

The false widow spider - which closely resembles the deadly black widow spider - is increasingly invading our homes to keep warm and dry.

Dublin, Cork and Wexford have the highest number of the fast-breeding spider, said researchers at NUI Galway.

Fatal

"While it is unlikely that a bite will be fatal, we do need to consider bites from false widows as a potential health risk," said Dr Michel Dugon, lead author of the study.

Spider numbers are on the increase not just in Ireland, but in the UK, mainland Europe and the US.

"We hope that our study will provide healthcare professionals with the information required to accurately diagnose and report bites associated with the false widow," said Dr Dugon.

The spider - which is native to the Canary Islands and Madeira - arrived in the UK about 100 years ago and has been steadily invading Ireland since the 1990s.

It lives for five to seven years, unlike most spider and bug species in Ireland that live for a maximum of one year.

The first true case of a false widow spider bite was identified in the UK in the 1990s.

Other cases have since been reported in Ireland and the UK.

Bites from a false widow spider are not fatal but lead to a large swelling within three minutes of being bitten.

This can be followed by the formation of a dry necrotic wound when the swelling subsides.

Antidote

The venom from a false widow spider is a lot more powerful than the researchers expected, producing about one tenth of a millionth of a litre of venom.

The NUI Galway study is the most intensive research carried out on the widow spider, while its laboratory is the only one in the world trying to find an antidote to the widow spider venom.

The spider is nocturnal and will normally spend the day sleeping inside a crack or hole close to its web.

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