It big and black and it bites - but how worried do we really need to be about the false widow spider?


So-called because it looks like the much more poisonous black widow spider, the false widow spider can give a bite that causes pain, redness and swelling. And it's been in the news quite a bit lately because of a spate of reported bite cases – including a four-year-old in Shrewsbury, a footballer in Devon and a woman in Somerset.

So how dangerous is it - and what do you need to know?

  • It has a round black or brown body and long legs, and it's about the size of a 1p coin.
  • You're more likely to come across one if you live in the south of the UK.
  • There isn’t an "outbreak"; this spider has lived among us for 150 years. It tends to lurk in sheds and garages, and the recent warmer-than-usual weather may explain why it's being spotted more commonly right now.
  • It only bites when it feels threatened, so steer well clear!
  • If you are bitten, you'll probably get a swelling around the area and may feel tingly fingers and/or chest pains. It's unlikely to cause you serious health problems and the swelling should subside in three days or so. However, if you suffer an allergic reaction to the bite, you should seek medical help straightaway.

“There are false widows about," spider expert Martin Nicholas told "They’re relatively common in England. But the effects of a bite are likely to be very mild.

"In the case of an allergic reaction, the bite can be more painful and the swelling greater, and you should take medical advice.

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“But, although they are Britain's most dangerous spider, that's like calling a particular type of cat Britain's most dangerous kitten. There are far more dangerous things in the average garden – like bees and wasps, for example."

If you’re concerned that you or your child have been bitten by a spider, do check the NHS’s bites and stings symptom checker.