I’ve just been reassuring my sister that, no, even if she continues to pad about the house in bare feet, she will not suffer an agonizing death from an invasion of deadly spiders.
She has been finding Steatoda nobilis in the house. Sometimes, rather unhelpfully, called a ‘false widow’, Steatoda is vaguely related to the infamous black widow, Latrodectus mactans, but only in that it is in the same spider family (Theridiidae), along with a host of tiny, insignificant (and harmless) critters often called tangle-web spiders because of the messy silk strands they weave. Theridiids have a special comb of stiff hairs on their back legs, to better help them wrap their prey with silk. Unfortunately this small detail of comparative anatomy is lost on most journalists and this is the type of headline we have to contend with
I had a look at the jaws under a microscope. Surprisingly, the fangs look rather short and blunt, nothing like the needle-pointed scimitars of the woodlouse spider, Dysdera crocata, which understandably can give quite a nip if picked up injudiciously. So I’m wondering how Steatoda can get through human skin. Next time I see one, I’m going to pick it up and see.
This is one of the specimens I was sent, photographed down the microscope. I’m struck how the pattern on the abdomen (this one a male) looks rather like a fleur-de-lys — truly a noble symbol, and well befitting such a noble spider.