'False widow' spiders

Posted: Wednesday 18 December 2013
by Richard Jones

...I’m not sure whether I’m going to regret bringing them up again, but I have some fascinating spiders living in my compost bin.

It’s all gone rather quite on this front, and I’m not sure whether I’m going to regret bringing them up again, but I have some fascinating spiders living in my compost bin. Their scientific names are Steatoda nobilis, Steatoda grossa and Steatoda bipunctata, but they are known to tabloid journalists countrywide as false widow spiders.

It all came to a head, back in September and October. Schools were closed, ordinary humans were hospitalized with ulcerous and pus-filled wounds, pets were terrorized and arachnophobes everywhere were nodding their heads with I-told-you-so certainty. Quite frankly, it was pathetic. Ordinarily when writing a blog, I might sarcastically put in a link here, or here, to some examples of the scare-mongering nonsense that was peddled at the time. But I’m going to resist. It is now all so beneath ones dignity. Instead, here are links to the British Arachnological Society and Buglife pages on these much maligned invertebrates.

Needless to say those tabloid journos have moved on and have abandoned spiders with the facile flippancy of so many goldfish. But my interesting spiders are still living a homely life in the blue wooden bins shaped like beehives into which I chuck all my garden and kitchen refuse. There is no need to guess what they’re feeding on, even now when I raise the lids a cloud of Drosophila fruit flies lifts into the air. They must get through dozens a day.

Last time I lifted the covers there were at least eight Steatoda specimens tucked up into the deep corners all looking very glossy in the abdomen, but juttingly angular in the skinny legs — several small S. nobilis and a large S. bipunctata. They can keep active enough through the winter because of the gentle fermenting heat of the decay, and the fact that the bins are in the lee of the house. And, of course, it is this warm shelter that encourages what are really southern European species to live in and around houses, garages and sheds this far north.

They also occur down the back of the guinea-pig’s hay-insulated shelter. It’s a real shame that the journalists latched onto the ‘widow’ version of the spiders’ name, rather than their other much more sensible title — rabbit hutch spiders.

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