There are around 650 - 700 known species of spider in the UK. Many of these are so similar in appearance that they can only be accurately identified under a microscope. At least 14 species have been confirmed by the NHM to bite humans if handled roughly, laid / sat on or threaten. None of which are considered to be aggressive or dangerous to Humans though. Spiders play a vital role in stabilising the numbers of other insects that are a nuisance to Humans, including gnats, mosquitoes, wasps and flies.
False Widow Spider (Steatoda nobilis)
The term "false widow spider" is used to describe a group of 6 or 7 species of spider found in the UK. Each of these spiders bares a visual resemblance to the notorious Black Widow Spider. The most venomous species in the UK and usually the one referred to as the False Widow Spider by the media is the Noble False Widow Spider pictured above. These spiders were first recorded in the UK over 100 years ago in Dorset and are believed to have been accidentally imported into the UK from the Canary and Medeira Islands amidst crates of fruit. In the last 25 years they have spread further up the country and they are now regularly seen in houses and gardens across England. Nobel False Widow Spiders are the largest of the false widow species but are still a fairly small spider with females usually growing to a maximum body size of 15mm and a leg-span of 30-35mm. They have recently received great interest from the British press and are often reported as being aggressive, dangerous, highly venomous and deadly. Although capable of delivering a painful bite I have found them to be a very docile species when I've photographed them.
As with most spiders, the male Noble False Widow Spider is smaller than the female, although the male pictured above is only a sub-adult.
Despite being in the UK for over 100 years the Noble False Widow Spider has recently gained an undeserved reputation which has been generated by sensationalized stories in the media such as these during 2014. These stories are usually completely exaggerated and based on little fact. Rarely has the accused spider been caught for a positive identification and severe reactions from bites are nearly always caused by infection (usually introduced by scratching the bite with dirty hands) and not from the spider itself.
Another sub-adult that still has its striped legs and doesn't yet have the black cephalothorax (upper body / head).
False widow webs are a messy tangled scaffold of silky threads. The Noble False Widow Spider is primarily a nocturnal species and at night can often be spotted hanging upside down in its messy hammock style web. During the day the spider usually hides away in a crack or crevice in the adjoining wall. False widow spider bites are rare. In most cases a bite is often considered to be no more painful than a bee or wasp sting. Symptoms can include pain, swelling and reddening surrounding the bite area. Sometimes this can be accompanied by nausea and breathing issues depending on the victim's sensitivity to the venom. Most severe cases that include severe swelling and ulceration are caused by infection to the wound. Usually symptoms disappear within 3 days. If symptoms are severe then you should seek medical assistance. In all cases wounds should be cleaned and a disinfectant applied to reduce the risk of infection. Antibiotics should only be taken in the case of infection otherwise they are not needed. An ice pack may be applied to reduce swelling and pain. Avoid scratching or rubbing the bite area as again this could increase the risk of infection.
Zebra Jumping Spider (Salticus scenicus)
The Zebra Jumping Spider is a common jumping spider found across the UK, often in urban and suburban areas. They can also been found on heathland and farmland sites too. They are often seen sunning themselves on walls, rocks, tree-trunks or fences. Jumping Spiders do not make webs. Instead they jump onto their prey with great accuracy and quickly inflict a lethal venomous bite to their unsuspecting victims. They can usually jump up to 10cm, but I have observed one jumping almost twice that distance in a downward direction landing directly on a fly which was killed instantly with an immediate bite. Jumping Spiders have six eyes, two of which are front facing and extremely large. These huge front-facing eyes are used for judging distance when jumping onto prey. Before the spider jumps it attaches a web line which it can use to enable it to return to the same spot again. Zebra Jumping Spiders are small with a maximum body-length of 5-7mm. They are stocky in build with short, thick legs. If you approach a Zebra Jumping Spider, it will often lift its head and follow your movements closely with its big eyes.
Spotted Wolf Spider (Pardosa amentata)
The Spotted Wolf Spider is a member of the Lycosidae family which has over 2400 species. Several of these species of Wolf Spider live in the UK and they are very difficult to tell apart. Wolf Spiders get there name because they actively hunt down their prey rather using webs. Spotted Wolf Spiders are very fast runners enabling them to chase and catch their prey. Females carry their egg-sac at the base of their abdomen held on by the spinnerets. Two of the eyes of a Wolf Spider are considerably larger than their other eyes and these spiders have excellent eye-sight.
When the egg-sac hatches, the female carries dozens of tiny spiderlings on her back and under her abdomen for several days.
Common Hammock-Weaver / European Sheetweb Spider (Linyphia triangularis)
The Common Hammock-Weaver is a widespread member of the Linyphiidae family. It's a small spider with a body length of around 6mm and a leg-span of up to 20mm. The males are slightly smaller. These spiders build a small horizontal web in bushes and low vegetation where they are usually seen hanging upside down in the centre during the day in late summer and autumn. One identifying feature is the tuning-fork-shaped mark on the carapace behind the eyes.
Common Fox Spider (Alopecosa pulverulenta)
The Common Fox Spider is a another Wolf Spider from the Lycosidae family which has over 2400 species. This is one of the most common Wolf Spiders found across the UK and is usually encountered in May or June, but can be seen anywhere from spring to autumn. Many other species from the Alopecosa family can look identical without very close examination. They are fairly small spiders with a body length of 5-10mm, and a leg-span of 10-20mm. Like many Wolf Spiders that chase down their prey, these are very fast runners for their size.
Male Green Orb-Weaver Spider
Green Orb-Weaver Spider / aka Cucumber Spider (Araniella cucurbitina)
The Green Orb-Weaver Spider is very small with a body length of only 4-6mm. Green Orb-Weaver Spiders are a common native species that can be found throughout the UK and northern Europe. Despite their bright and almost fluorescent green colour theses tiny spiders can hide well camouflaged amongst bushes, plants and hedgerows. They usually go completely unnoticed until they stray from their usual habitat onto white uPVC windows or door frames in residential areas. The abdomen is bright green / yellow with small black dots. The underside of the abdomen also has a red spot. Young spiders may have a red spot on their head as well. Newly hatched spiderlings are red but their colour changes to brown before the autumn arrives.
Female Green Orb-Weaver Spider
Female Green Orb-Weaver Spider
Candy Stripe Spider / Polymorphic Spider (Enoplognatha ovata / latimana)
The Candy Stripe Spider is a member of the Comb-Footed Spider family. This small spider is common throughout the UK and resides in low vegetation habitat such as grassland, hedgerows and bushes. The female pictured above grows to a maximum body length of 6mm with a leg-span of 16mm whilst the smaller males only reach 4mm in body length. Both sexes are similar in appearance and come in several different colour morphs, The abdomens can be either pale green (or white) sometimes accompanied with green stripes and black spots, or yellow, or pale with two red stripes and black spots or pale with one bold red stripe and black spots. Legs are semi-translucent in all colour morphs. The Candy Stripe Spider often builds a scrappy cob-web style web (a loose disorganised mess of threads) on low-lying plants.
Common Orb Weaver aka Lesser Garden Spider, Stretch Spider. (Meta / Metellina segmentata)
A commonly found orb-weaver spider in most types of habitats including gardens. They are a small spider with a body-length of 7-8mm. The abdomen can vary in colour from orange, yellow and red to dull light brown. Males are usually darker. When disturbed these spiders can lay with their legs fully stretched out in-font and behind them, giving rise to the name "Stretch Spider". When stretched out like this they can have a leg-span of up to an inch in length. These spiders belong to the Tetragnathidae family.
Nursery Web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis)
These spiders are grey or brown and are similar to Wolf Spiders. However unlike the Wolf Spiders which carry their egg-sac attached to their spinnerets at the rear of their body, the Nursery Web Spider uses its jaws and pedipalps to carry the egg-sac beneath its body. The Nursery Web Spider gets its name from its watchful guarding of its young. When the egg is due to hatch it is fixed to a plant and then covered in a silken tent. The adult spider then stands guard over the spiderlings until they have all dispersed from the tent. These spiders do not spin a web to catch their prey.
Female Nursery Web Spider basking in the sunshine with egg.
Stone Spider (Drassodes lapidosus / Drassodes cupreus)
The Stone Spider is fairly common across the UK. The females grow to a usual body length of around 18mm with a 30 - 40mm leg-span. They are normally light brown / grey in colour with an elongated abdomen, light brown legs, large black jaws and a velvety appearance. The four long tubular spinnerets at the back of the abdomen are helpful in identifying these species. These spiders are nocturnal hunters. They do not make a web but during the day they do hide themselves in a web-based silky sac.
This was an unusually large female specimen which was very pale in colouration and had a body length of 19mm.
Long / Wide-Jawed Orb Weaver Spiders (Tetragnatha Sp.)
The Tregnatha extensa has a body length of up to 11mm but the leg-span can be around 35mm +. They are commonly found around or near to water and can vary in colour form pale yellow - light green - light brown. They have extremely long jaws (chelicerae) with the fangs at the tips. When disturbed these spiders can lay with their legs fully stretched out in-font and behind them, giving rise to the name "Stretch Spider". This enables them to hide behind thin vegetation.
Black Lace Weaver / Web Spider (Amaurobius ferox)
The female Black Lace Weaver Spider has a substantial body size of 16mm and a legspan of around 30mm. The males are slightly smaller with a maximum body size of 12.5mm. These spiders are often found under logs, rocks, tree bark and in cellars, garages, gardens and woodland across Europe and N. America. The Greek word "Amaurobius" means "living in the dark" and the Latin word "ferox" can mean "the fierce or ferocious one" - The ferocious one from the dark!
The females never leave their silken web which consists of a lace-like web around a funnel. Males can be found wandering around at night looking for females to mate with. Usually during their second year the female will give birth to 60-180 eggs in a silky woven sack. The spiderlings will eventually eat their mother before leaving the nest. This process is known as matriphagy.
These spiders are not usually aggressive but females are known to bite if disturbed from their web. I have been bitten by these spiders twice myself on my hand when turning over logs and rocks. After an initial pin prick my hand felt slightly swollen with a strong sensation of heat and tingling and I felt slightly light-headed and nauseas. These symptoms passed within a couple of hours although others report symptoms of nausea, pain, reddening and swelling for up to three days.
There are several lace weaver spiders in the UK, Amaurobius similis, Amaurobius fenestralis and the larger Amaurobius ferox pictured above. All three species are similar in appearance but Amaurobius ferox & Amaurobius similis tend to be darker and larger as adults.
Daddy Long-Legs / Cellar Spider / Skull Spider (Pholcus phalangioides)
The Cellar Spider is very common and frequently found in homes across the country. This spider has many names but they are most commonly referred to by the term 'Daddy-long-legs'. This term is unfortunately also used when referring to Crane Flies and Harvestmen, so adds to confusion when identifying a species and is best avoided.
- Crane flies (Tipulidae) are large, slender flies known for their erratic flight.
- Harvestmen (Opiliones) are arachnids but not spiders because they only have a single pair of eyes and a fused body shape.
Cellar Spiders build messy dangling webs that hang from the ceiling in houses, garages and cellars. They have a small body 6-10mm and extremely long thin legs and can have a leg-span of up to 70mm or more. These legs are very delicate and it's not uncommon to find specimens with missing legs. They are also known as the Skull Spider due to their head often resembling that of a human skull. Another name sometimes used is the Architrave Spider which obviously comes from their webs usually being found in houses where ceilings and walls meet. When approached these spiders will vibrate their webs rapidly and has given rise to yet another name for the species, the Vibrating Spider. This is a practice adopted by many other spider species as well though.
The Cellar Spider is not an aggressive species but does bite humans on occasion. These bites to humans are rare and reports indicate nothing more than a very mild and short-lived burning sensation. In July 2015 my cousin reported being bitten by a Cellar Spider - “I was gardening yesterday when I felt a stinging sensation on my leg. When I looked down one of these little brutes was attached to my calf! As soon as I brushed it off my leg I felt better.”
Despite their delicate appearance the Cellar Spider is a "spider hunter" and can prey on other far larger or more dangerous spiders such as Giant House Spiders or False Widow Spiders. They achieve this by throwing silky strands of web at their opponent to entangle them before moving in and biting. They are therefore considered a species that might be beneficial to have in your home if you don't like spiders! They are also cannibalistic and even the young spiderlings will prey on their siblings. These spiderlings are almost completely transparent and hang around the mother's web for some time after hatching. Common names came be confusing as the name “cellar spider” is sometimes also used for both the False Widow Spider (Steatoda grossa) and the Tube Web Spider (Segestria florentina).
Labyrinth Spider (Agelena labyrinthica)
The Labyrinth Spider is usually found in long grass, on hedgerows and low down on trees across England and Wales especially in July and August. Their webs are large horizontal dense sheets of white silky threads with a funnel in the centre. This deep funnel usually leads to a series of chambers where the female keeps her egg-sac. These webs are often found in abundance on a hedgerow where this species is present and they range from being located on the ground to being 1.5 metres above ground level. The Labyrinth Spider is the largest of 180 species of funnel spider found in Europe and Agelena labyrinthica can grow to a maximum body length of 18mm. These spiders are fast and agile. They have good spatial awareness and will often quickly retreat into their labyrinth of tunnels if approached. They are also cannibalistic and this male specimen photographed above was found eating an identical spider of the same size and species. This is not a species usually found in houses and its bite is not considered to be painful or of any concern.
Garden Spider / Cross Spider (Araneus diadematus)
The Garden Spider is a large and common orb-web spider found across Europe as well as in parts of North America. Most specimens have a white cross on their abdomen. The adults can come in a huge range of colours from yellow - brown - red - dark grey but the spiderlings are always bright yellow with a black triangle on the abdomen. Adult females can grow to a large body length of 20mm whilst males are slimmer and only reach 13mm. Their highly geometrical webs are usually around 40mm in diameter and the adult spider can be found either in the centre of the web or hidden close by on the other end of a trigger line from the web.
In some specimens of Garden Spider the identifiable cross markings are almost absent as in the photo above. With a body length of nearly 20mm this example is one of the largest I have seen and was probably heavily gravid. The female will weave a silky web-sac some distance from her web where she will deposit anywhere between 100 - 800 tiny yellow eggs.
This predator sits and waits for lunch to come to her. Adult female Garden Spiders are known to bite humans if handled.
Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi)
This photo shows the underside of the Wasp Spider as she hangs from a leaf. Her powerful fangs are clearly visible. The male Wasp Spider is much smaller than the female as is often the case with spiders. Mating with the female can be a risky business for the male so it often hides by a female's web and waits until she periodically sheds her skin. The new skin underneath is very soft when first exposed and the female is vulnerable as her fangs are not as strong as usual until the skin hardens up. The male quickly seizes this opportunity to make his move and mate with the female while she is in this vulnerable state. Many males still suffer injury or death during the process though and the female will often eat the male given the chance.
As demonstrated by this image, the male Wasp Spider is far small than the female.
Wasp Spiders often display the same defensive strategy when approached. They are often witnessed dropping from their web completely and remaining completely motionless on the ground beneath the web in the hope that any would-be predator will not be able to find them.
Giant House Spider (Tegenaria gigantea / duellica)
This adult male Tegenaria duellica had a measured leg-span of around 70mm. Shortly after these photos were taken the spider began the process of sloughing (shedding its old skin). The entire process took two hours to complete and when the spider was able to stand and stretch its new legs it now had a leg-span of 85mm!
The cephalothorax splits across the back and the spider begins the arduous task of forcing itself out of the old skin. This is done in several stages with the spider taking time to rest regularly while it regains its strength before continuing. The only part of the spider that is attached to the old skin is at the base of the abdomen.
Eventually the spider breaks free and lays motionless for several minutes, completely exhausted. In this exhausted state the spider is highly vulnerable.
When the spider has regained enough energy it prepares itself to stand on its new legs. Spiders are exo-skeletal so at this stage the limbs are still very soft and flexible and are unable to support the weight of the spider.
The spider finally manages to get itself upright. It quickly stretches out its new legs. Here it must remain and wait patiently while the new skin hardens sufficiently to fully support the spider. The soft new skin is quite translucent and the spider looks very different than before.
After waiting for over an hour the spider's skin is now able to provide the skeletal support enabling the spider to walk once again. The spider is still exhausted and the new skin has still not fully hardened so once able to walk the spider abandons the old slough and heads off seeking cover where it can hide until fully recovered.
The old abandoned slough is 20% smaller than the newly emerged spider.
Who are you sharing your home with?
There are several species of House Spider in the UK belonging to the Tegenaria family. These spiders are often referred to as "Tegs". Male Giant House Spiders go in search of females to mate with during the Autumn months. This search often takes them into people's houses. Their sheer size can be quite alarming to anyone who suffers with a fear of spiders, but these are not an aggressive species at all and they very rarely bite humans. If found in the home just capture them in a glass and pop them back outside where they belong.
Tube Web Spider (Segestria florentina)
The Tube Web Spider is a large heavily built spider (by UK standards) that originated from the Mediterranean. It usually has a body-size of around 22mm but they can grow in excess of 30mm with a leg-span of over 45mm. The Tube Web Spider is generally nocturnal. It is often found in cracks in walls where they retreat into a tube shaped web with trip-lines extending outside of the crevice where they are hiding. If the trip lines are triggered then the spider springs out of the hole biting the prey and dragging it back into its lair. The adults are dark black often with a distinctive green iridescent metallic shine to their fangs. These spiders are well known for their aggression and the bite is reportedly very painful to humans causing swelling and tenderness to the bitten area with the pain lasting for several hours. These spiders have also made headlines in the press recently:
Crab Spider (family Thompisidae)
Another Crab Spider form the group Xysticus Sp.
House Crab Spider (Philodromus dispar)
Another small and frequently encountered crab spider in England & Wales witha body length of 4-5mm for both sexes. Found in a variety of habitats especially low vegetation and bushes. They are also found in homes on occasion. The female is variable in colour but usually brown-yellow while the male has a dark upper body and head and white or light coloured legs and underside.
Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)
These Crab Spiders are usually found hiding on white, yellow or pink flowers. This Crab Spider is an excellent ambush predator with the ability to slowly change its body colour to match the flower that it is hiding on. This colour-changing process can take 6-25 days to complete. This species has a wide range across Europe and the USA. In the UK it is common across the southern half of Wales & England especially around London and the south-east. Usually active from May-August but can be seen from April-September.
The male Crab Spider is much smaller than the aggressive and powerful female. Male spiders often risk injury or death during any attempt to mate with the female.
This male waits until the female is pre-occupied with killing a large hoverfly before jumping up and seizing this opportunity to mate. Some Crab Spiders are also known to tie up the female in silk-like web before attempting to mate.
The Natural History Museum previously displayed on its website, 14 documented cases of bites from domestic spiders to Humans in the UK.
The NHS gives the following advice regarding spider bites: In most cases, spider bites do not require medical attention and symptoms can be treated at home, by washing the bite area with soap and water. Applying a cold, moistened flannel or cloth on the bite can help reduce any swelling. Infections are usually caused by scratching so don't scratch the bite. If necessary, take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen for any pain.
In rare cases though, wasp / bee stings and spider bites can cause anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis requires urgent medical treatment.
Call 999 for an ambulance if the person who has been bitten has symptoms such as:
Wheezing or breathing difficulty
Tongue or lip swelling
Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
Fast heart rate
Dizziness or feeling faint
Confusion, anxiety or feeling agitated
Seek medical advice if there is a considerable swelling, blistering or pus.
Arachnophobia (the fear of spiders) is the most common fear in the world. See list here
If you suspect that you have found a dangerous non-native spider in the UK then you can send a high quality image to the NHM for identification: firstname.lastname@example.org