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Worried About This ‘Spider Invasion’?

This is the season when our lives become festooned with spiders. The humungous webs of plump orb-weaver spiders block our path outside, while indoors we are greeted by amorous male house spiders, which are not seeking to terrify us but simply searching for a mate.

Some experts suggest this year’s warm summer will produce a bumper crop, although “invasions” of “sex-crazed” spiders are recycled every autumn by media arachnophobes.

We have no deadly spiders in Britain, but are there any we should be scared of? “The likelihood of getting bitten by a spider is extremely rare,” says Andrew Whitehouse of the charity Buglife. “The vast majority of our British spiders are too small – they can’t get their jaws wide apart enough to nip you.”

Spindly spiders (known as cellar spiders and sometimes called daddy-long-legs, and which have the lovely scientific name Pholcus phalangioides) can’t bite humans. Orb-weavers and house spiders, which alarm us with their scuttling and occasionally measure 12cm, are very unlikely to administer a bite, although Whitehouse advises it is “worth respecting some larger spiders”, such as the woodlouse spider, which has visible jaws designed for crunching woodlice.

Several species of false widow spiders (which probably first arrived on imported fruit more than a century ago) cause media panics. They are not aggressive, however. “I’ve never been bitten by a false widow spider, but I’m told it is not much more than a bee or wasp sting,” says Whitehouse. “Occasionally there could be complications if there is an allergic reaction or bites become infected.”

The genuinely arachnophobic may be comforted by the fact that spiders find centrally heated homes too dry, and regular hoovering and dusting keeps numbers down. For the rest of us, Whitehouse urges us to appreciate these fellow species that also walk the Earth, and which help control other invertebrates we also consider to be pests.
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