False Widow spider turns up in Oranmore bathroom

Hypnotherapist Dudley Hayden closes in on the False Widow spider.

The country’s most venomous species of spider – which delivers a nasty bite like a bee sting – has made a reappearance in Galway.

Hypnotherapist Dudley Hayden – whose range of clients ironically includes people with a fear of spiders – got a bit of a fright himself last Monday morning when he came across a False Widow in his bathroom!

The False Widow spider in Dudley's house.
The False Widow spider in Dudley’s house.

“I was grabbing my toothbrush and toothpaste and spotted it. I was about to pick it up, because I use spiders in my work as a hypnotherapist, treating people for their fears.

“I got a little bit of a fright when I noticed the markings. I knew this wasn’t just a common house spider,” said Mr Hayden, who lives in Oranmore.

According to the Department of Zoology at NUI Galway, the False Widow (formally known as the Steatoda nobilis) delivers a bite similar to a wasp of bee sting, but there is evidence of people suffering serious effects.

It has led to hospitalisations in Ireland – including one man who spent 24 hours in intensive care after he was bitten three times on his couch and went into anaphylactic shock, while others have suffered blistering and swellings to limbs. They are believed to have come to Ireland in 1997 on fruit and vegetables being imported from the Canary Islands and are spreading here because of milder winters.

Initially, they were reported in the south-east of the country and along the east coast, although there have been sightings in the West. However, while the spider – a distant cousin of the Black Widow – can cause painful injuries to some people, it also has its uses.

Last year, Dr Michel Dugon, an Adjunct Lecturer in Zoology at NUIG began research on its venom’s potential for anti-cancer properties.

Up close: the spider found in Oranmore.
Up close: the spider found in Oranmore.

Initial test show the venom caused significant cell death – it is believed that if the toxins are rearranged, they could become powerful tools in the treatment of the likes of diseases such as cancer.

Mr Hayden made contact with Dr Dugon, who collected the spider to use in his research.

The False Widow is around the same size as a 20c coin and can be identified by its large, bulbous abdomen with distinctive white markings that are often likened to a skull.