I’m ambivalent about spiders. A spider and I can share a room without too much sweaty excitement. But the prospect of picking one up to chuck out the window does make me feel like I’ve just breathed in from a hot, wheaty bag. Admitting this as a man is a bit like failing to open a jar. People say not to worry, but you know they’re mentally relegating your bravery score to being on a par with Shaggy in Scooby Doo.
Until recently, I believed that this was made all the more pathetic by the lack of threat posed by spiders in the UK. Britain doesn’t do poisonous animals. Our fauna wears mittens and tweed jackets and converses with one another about how frightful the proposed road expansion is. The only truly poisonous thing in Britain isn’t an animal at all:
If I lived in Australia and was confronted by a toilet full of angry redbacks waving their eight tiny fists, what would I do? Well, I’d die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I daresay they could build a new home for the spiders from the housebricks that would be scattered amongst my remains. So this week’s news about a school in Gloucestershire being closed for a day in response to an infestation of Britain’s most venomous spiders, with pest control experts called in to control the outbreak, was not good.
First off, an infestation of anything is rarely happy news. You don’t hear people saying their fridge is infested with delicious food, or that their wardrobe is infested with fine clothes. And Britain’s most venomous spiders? Well hey and excuse me, I didn’t know there was even a single one, let alone a well-populated league table.
It’s important to pause here to look at the evidence. Is this spider a threat to you? Well, the early signs are good. It packs a sting no more potent than that of a honey bee. It has reportedly never killed anyone in the UK. And it eats other spiders. What’s not to love?
But let’s not get too comfortable here. The scary might be lying just below the surface. The thing about spiders is that they inspire fear in order to change people’s behaviour. Spiders know that you’re bigger than them, and could in theory squash them at any time. They need to make sure that you’re sufficiently worried so that each movement towards them would see you squirting urine with every step. What we’re dealing with here, ladies and gentlemen, are tiny little terrorists. We need to look for clues that could be signs of a future attack.
And those signs are there. According to an insect expert, false widows are “ponderous, very slow moving and not at all aggressive.” But that is exactly what they would want you to think, lulling you in to a false sense of security. We should learn from other uses of this tactic we might see from our elected representatives.
And here’s the clincher. False widow spiders prefer warm, dark spaces. Places where you’re off-guard, vulnerable. Where could they go? Where might they hide?
If you’ll excuse, I’ve just had a large delivery of house bricks.