More than 350 million people suffer from arachnophobia—the fear of spiders. They haunt the dreams of young kids and make grown-up men scream in terror. But do they deserve this questionable fame? Welcome back to the Pest Library, where we’ll take a look at the most prominent species of spiders in the UK.
Many people think spiders are “insects”. Actually, they belong to a different order of the animal kingdom—the arachnids. Spiders are more closely related to ticks and scorpions than to cockroaches and wasps. This is good news! Unlike insects, spiders cannot fly, and there’s no chance for arachnids to evolve wings in the foreseeable future. Spiders are easily distinguished from insects by the fact they are eight-legged. They have segmented bodies that comes at all different shapes and sizes. Most spiders have eight eyes although they are hard to see with naked eye. Almost all spider species produce spider silk through spinnerets in the back of their bodies. They also have fangs with which they hold their prey. Unlike insects, spiders do not have antennae.
There are more than 40,000 spider species around the world. They are rarely considered pests—they do not spread any diseases and do not cause any damages. Spiders also feed on many insects we consider pests—flies, cockroaches, ants and even wasps. Thus, spiders help curtail the spread of communicable diseases. Almost all species are venomous but few of them have mandible strong enough to penetrate human skin.
Yet this does not mean spiders are harmless. There are species of biting spiders UK with painful and potentially dangerous bites. Such spider bites can trigger allergic reactions and shock. Spiders also can cause phobic reactions, such as hysteria or stress, in humans. They are also visually unappealing—spider webs are usually associated with neglect and filth.
Spiders feed primarily on insects. The diet of larger species can also include birds, rodents, lizards and other spiders. They capture their prey in several different ways. The most common method is by using webs. Spiders spin webs which are hard to detect by flying insects. It is made of protein fiber silk and functions as a sticky net to catch airborne prey. Spiders also use it to “mumify” their prey and preserve it for future consumption.
Some spiders prefer to hunt on the ground instead. They do not construct nets but instead capture their prey with their fangs. The venom most spiders produce is a insecticide that kills or immobilises insects. A few spider species hunt water-borne animals in a similar fashion.
Spider infestations have one simple cause—overpopulation. Unlike what most people think, indoor spiders do not come from outside in the end of summer. The only exception to this rule in the UK is the Giant house spider. Spiders are all around us at all times. If the habitat is favourable, their population will boom. Arachnids love to hide in dry, warm places such as boxes, corners, the short distance between furniture and walls, and window frames. There they spin webs and hunt insects. Increase in their population may be related to infestation by other pests. Abundant food can easily cause spiders to thrive in your home or office.
There are only a few venomous spiders UK species with bites that might harm humans. It’s good for UK home-owners to know and recognize these venomous spiders – both as a precaution to avoid their bite and as a comfort not to panic if a bite occurs.
False Widow Spider
The venom of the adult False Widow spiders (Steatoda) can cause localised pain and swelling around the wound. There’s no need to worry, these spiders bite only as a last-stand defence measure.
Recognizable traits: Glossy legs, a dark brown upper body (true widows’ thorax is black) and cream-coloured patterns on it bulbous abdomen. Most often seen in sheds and constructions outside.
Location: Fairly common in South England, originally from the Canary Islands.
Cross Spider (Garden Spider)
This venomous spider’s bite causes nausea and fairly small swelling that can last up to a couple of days.
Recognizable traits: Black legs with yellow or red colouring on them, 3 claws on each leg, front body covered in short silver hairs.
Location: All over Europe
Brown Recluse Spider
The Brown Recluse Spider (Loxosceles reclusa) has necrotic venom, which means if severe, the bite could result in necrosis. However, most people do not experience any symptoms with only a few experiencing a stinging, intense pain.
Spider bites usually do not require special treatment. Their venom is in fact insecticide, thus rarely highly toxic to humans. If the pain is intense and there are signs of inflammation, it is best to seek professional medical advise.
Unlike other pests, spiders are quite easy to deal with by yourself. There are numerous different methods and usually no chemicals are required. The easiest and safest way is to use a vacuum cleaner and suck them off their webs. You can also buy yourself a webster—specialised brush for removal of spiders and spider webs. Keep in mind no matter how many of those creatures you deal with, they will keep reappearing. The best way to ensure a spider-free property is to exterminate their food source—cockroaches, flies, ants and other types of insects.
Arachnids are extremely beneficial to the balance of nature. We consider most of the animals they prey on as pests. Spiders keep the population of flies under control. This prevents mass spread of diseases. They also prey on cockroaches, wasps, small lizards and even rodents.
In recent years spider silk has been utilised by many industries. It is light-weight, flexible, durable and strong. Some experimental bullet-proof vests have succesfully used it instead of kevlar. Spider silk is also used in the medical field, as some arachnid species spin web that helps the regrowth of neurons in mammals.
Spiders are also a part of the cuisine of many modern cultures. Deep fried tarantulas are considered a delicacy in Vietnam. Unlike insects, spider’s texture is much more meat-like.
Images by: 1. Luis Fernández García, 2. David Short, 3. Oakley Originals
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