School forced to close as suspected outbreak of ‘Britain’s most venomous spider’ detected

False widow spider catches and kills honey bee

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The Duston School, on Berrywood Road, closed its doors today following worries about an infestation of the UK’s most venomous spider. The false widow spider is the only known species in the UK and Ireland that’s venom can cause medical symptoms in those that come into contact with it according to an expert.

It is the second school in Northamptonshire to shut after Malcolm Arnold Academy – also in Northampton – had to close on Sept. 17 due to the arachnids.

In a letter sent to parents, Duston principal Sam Strickland confirmed that both primary- and secondary-age children would be sent home.

Staff and students would have to remain away from classes while the spiders were dealt with.

Michel Dugon, Head of the Venom Systems Lab at NUI Galway and senior author of a new study into the false widow, said the spider “is the only known species in the United Kingdom and Ireland capable of producing an array of (mild) medical symptoms in envenomated patients.”

According to the Natural History Museum, false widow spiders often venture inside in the Autumn as the weather cools, but the spiders can be found indoors year-round.

They usually keep to dark corners, going unnoticed for most of the year.

Despite looking similar to the far more dangerous black widow spider – owing to their name – the spiders, which arrived in the UK in the 1870s, have a “relatively harmless bite” akin to a wasp sting.

Pupils at Dunston will not be getting the day off, however, with teachers moving to online lessons.

In the letter to parents, sent yesterday, Mr Strickland said that a decision as to whether to reopen the school would be made today after the situation had been “assessed and for the school to be cleaned.”

“I cannot apologise enough for the inconvenience that this may cause you, especially in terms of organising child care arrangements.

“However, the health and safety of the school community must come first and foremost.

“Work will be set for all of our pupils to complete at home via Microsoft Teams.”

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In 2018, there were a series of outbreaks in schools across the East London borough of Newham, with several schools having to close and send children home to deal with the infestations.

The outbreaks affected Eastlea Community School in Canning Town and Lister Community School in Upton Park – as well as at least four other primary schools in the area.

Several schools arranged for some of their years to use facilities at nearby colleges while buildings were fumigated.

Newham Council said at the time that headteachers “know their schools best and made their decisions [to close] because of the scale of problem in their school.”

The Natural History Museum says that false widows are often confused with their deadlier cousin as both have similarly dark-colour, globular bodies.

Six species of false widows live permanently in the UK, and their venom is “not particularly potent”. Ordinarily, pain is centered on the bite and lasts between one and 12 hours, and usually no more than a day.

Males are more prone to biting, but this is only because they leave the nest in search of a mate, often venturing indoors looking for females.

They are only known to bite when provoked or trapped against skin.

Jan Beccaloni, Curator of Arachnida and Myriapoda at the Natural History Museum, has said that spiders are “awesome creatures which are sadly misunderstood.

“Aside from their key role in feeding on pest insect species, their silk is being developed to make specialist clothing such as bullet-proof vests and their venom can be used in pain relief.

“Next time you find an unwanted spider in your house, please don’t kill it. Either leave it in peace, or humanely put it out in your shed.”

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