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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 06:11 GMT 07:11 UK
Biting spider widens its web
Steatoda Nobilis spider
Steatoda Nobilis is a close relative of the Black Widow
A British spider which can bite humans is on the move.

Until recently, Steatoda Nobilis, a close relative of the notorious Black Widow, was native to Dorset.

But it can now be found in parts of Devon, Cornwall and Essex.

Steatoda Nobilis is believed to be the only one of Britain's 640 spider species which bites humans.

I'm fearful that whenever people see any spider they'll wallop it with a shoe

Colin Bath, Paignton Zoo
It is reported to have bitten at least 10 people in Dorset and four in Devon.

"To be quite honest the bite is not very bad," said Devon arachnologist Rowley Snazell.

"You really do have to go out of your way to come into contact with them."

Bad publicity

People who have been bitten by a Steatoda Nobilis report numbness and stinging, similar to a wasp or bee sting.

Colin Bath, curator of birds and reptiles at Paignton Zoo, said he was concerned that adverse publicity for Steatoda Nobilis would be bad news for all spiders.

"I'm fearful that whenever people see any spider they'll wallop it with a shoe," he told BBC News Online.

Steatoda Nobilis originates from the Canary Islands and was first seen in the UK about 100 years ago.

But despite hailing from the balmy Canaries, it has adapted to British winters and has been spotted at temperatures as low as -5C.

'Remote' chances

In the last two years people have given captured spiders they believe to be Steatoda Nobilis to Paignton Zoo.

Mr Bath went on: "It's very difficult to distinguish this spider from common household species."

It is this similarity to its non-biting relatives which concerns him.

"The chances of finding one are remote and most spiders do a wonderful job keeping down flies in the house.

"Please don't kill them."

See also:

03 Aug 01 | Wales
Spider man wins arachnid award
03 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Spider calms the quaking heart
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