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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 September 2005, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Eight-legged lodgers on the move
Large spiders have been sighted in people's homes
An army of huge spiders have been spotted in homes throughout Northern Ireland.

Increased sightings of the large, eight-legged lodgers has prompted scientists at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to soothe people's fears.

Panicked householders should calm down, said a Dard spokeswoman. Tegenaria Gigantea is a harmless, large sheet web spider - she's just looking for a winter home.

Sightings of these house spiders indoors are common at this time of year.

The spokeswoman said that the size, appearance and speed of these spiders leads some observers to think that they are the exotic variety, imported from abroad with fruit.

"The main body of the female spider can measure up to 18mm with a leg length of 30mm or more," the spokeswoman said.

"This gives an impressive leg span from tip to tip of up to 65mm, which gives rise to concern when spotted scuttling at high speed along the skirting boards or trapped in baths."

However, the spiders are merely seeking out dark, humid shelters in which to spend the winter, she explained.

"Normally they confine themselves to outhouses, sheds and garages but sometimes go up market and enter houses in search of a bit luxury," she said.

"Unfortunately for them, the dry warm conditions in modern houses tend to cause desiccation and death.

"So when spotted they are actively seeking better conditions in cold unused rooms or escape from the house altogether."

Exotic species are rarely encountered by the general public as harvesting, packaging, transport and ripening causes too much disturbance to retain local insects and spiders on the original fruit.

But the spokeswoman said that, if in doubt, members of the public should contact their local environmental health department for advice.

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