‘Bat-eating false widow spider’ discovered in UK after ‘trapping prey in web’

A false widow spider has reportedly been found eating a bat in the UK.

Reports of people being bitten by false widow spiders are becoming commonplace in the UK, especially in the autumn.

But while in some cases spider bite victims have sustained nasty injuries, like lab technician Carl Jones who was left with a “flesh-eating” infection on his arm, most people attacked by False Widows just receive a small and relatively harmless bite.

But it now appears bats might be in greater danger.

A team of scientists has recorded a case of a noble false widow spider feeding on a baby bat in an attic in Shropshire.

Artist Ben Waddams was in his attic when he discovered two bats snared in a spider web that had been spun across the entrance to their roost.

One of the bats, a smallish pup, had been bitten and was in the process of being eaten by the spider. A second, larger bat was tangled in the web but didn’t appear to have been eaten. Ben freed the stricken animal before it was too late.

Scientists say this is the first time any species of false widow has been seen preying on mammals.

Dr Michel Dugon, a lead researcher at the National University of Ireland, Galway, told RTE that it was a fascinating discovery.

"The noble false widow is a real treasure for us to research,” he said. “It's a truly remarkable living organism”.

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He pointed out that even though the bats were many times larger and heavier than the spider, “this species is capable of wrapping the prey in silk, injecting a toxic venom to immobilise its catch and then eating it”.

Dr Dugon described how the spider hunts: ”The spider does not have workable jaws to chew on their prey. Instead, they rely on their venom to paralyse and kill before they inject the prey with digestive juices from their stomach."

Once the digestive juices had done their work, dissolving the victim’s muscles and organs, the spider then sucks everything up “like a broth”.

False widows are a relatively new arrival to Britain, believed to have hitchhiked their way over from the Canary Islands and Madeira on cargo ships.

The level of threat posed by the Noble False Widow spider has been debated among spider and healthcare specialists for many years.

A paper published by Dr Dugon’s in May 2021 confirmed that some bite victims experience symptoms very similar to those bitten by true black widow spiders and some severe cases require hospitalisation.

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