For some people, the slightest glimpse of a spider is enough to inspire shrieks of fear. Some newspapers take full advantage of this notoriety, and every autumn there’s a surge of stories about spiders “invading” our homes, usually focussing on the largest species or those (often incorrectly) thought to be dangerous.
The truth is spiders live alongside us all year round and this is something to celebrate, not fear. These amazing animals are a vital part of our ecosystems, feeding on an astounding number of insects. It's estimated that across the world, spiders eat between 400 and 800 million tons of insects and other invertebrates a year. Many of the insects they eat are considered pests of food crops, garden plants and even people, so having spiders around is a great natural alternative to pesticides.
Some spiders have found their perfect home in our houses, hiding away behind furniture and hunting the other invertebrates that find their way inside, from house flies to wasps and mosquitoes. They tend to keep themselves to themselves, preferring dark corners where they can live in peace. But in late summer and early autumn some spiders become more active as males reach maturity and seek out a female to woo.
The fear of spiders often comes from worries about being bitten, fuelled by urban legends and hyped-up headlines. In reality, very few spiders in the UK are even capable of biting a person, and the small number that can rarely do. So, the next time you spot a spider sheltering in the corner of a room, give it a wave and say keep up the good work!
Here are some of the spiders you might find in your home...
House spiders (Eratigena or Tegenaria species)
These are the familiar large, hairy spiders sometimes seen running across your floor at night. There are several different species of house spider, which are tricky to tell apart! They’re all large and brown with very long legs, and spin sheets of webs in out-of-the-way corners. Photo credit: Dr Malcolm Storey
Cellar spider (Pholcus phalangioides)
These thin, gangly spiders are also likely to be familiar. Also known as daddy long-legs spiders, they often make webs in corners where walls meet the ceiling. They spend most of the day sat very still, but if disturbed they have two very different reactions. Some curl up into a ball and try to be invisible, but others vibrate manically in an attempt to frighten you off. They’re superb predators and eat other spiders, including their siblings! Photo credit: Brian Eversham
Mouse spider (Scotophaeus blackwalli)
These spiders get their name from the covering of tiny grey hairs on their abdomen (the rear part of the body), which looks a bit like mouse fur. The front of their body and legs are browner. They’re often found in houses and gardens, where they mostly hunt at night. Instead of making a web, they wander around looking for small insects to ambush. Photo credit: Brian Eversham
Spitting spider (Scytodes thoracica)
These small spiders are often found in houses in the south of England, though are rarer further north. They’re straw-coloured with black flecks all over the body and legs. They come out at night to hunt insects. When they find a target, they spray it with a sticky fluid that glues their prey to the floor, making it easier for this slow-moving spider to approach safely. Photo credit: Brian Eversham
Noble false widow spider (Steatoda nobilis)
These are the spiders that get most of the bad press. Noble false widows aren’t native to the UK, but have been here for over a century, slowly spreading northwards from the south coast. They’re dark brown with cream markings on their abdomen. They make messy webs in corners, like a house spider. Although they can bite, they are not aggressive and are only likely to do so if roughly handled. In the rare confirmed cases where a noble false widow has bitten someone, the bite has been compared to a wasp sting.
Photo credit: Jane Adams
Header image: Cellar spider by Tom Hibbert