Tag Archives: nature

A good treatment for False Widow venom

Ireland, like most of Europe has become home for species of spiders that can be venomous to human beings. Almost all spiders can potentially bite because all use venomous fangs to subdue prey, and sometimes defend themselves, but False Widows have a venom that has a bigger effect on people.

There are two species known in Ireland and both are believed to have originated in the Canary Islands and/or the nearby island of Madeira. However, these islands were stop-off points for trading ships travelling around the world in the Age of Discovery, from the 1480s onwards for ships rounding Africa or travelling to the Americans, so there is a small possibility they might actually have originated from elsewhere, but a this stage it’s highly likely we’ll never know for sure.

 

An average-size adult Steatoda grossa of the black variety, although the classically marked variety is beautiful by comparison. This spider looks very like a Black Widow or Australian Red-back Spider. However, none of these spiders is naturally aggressive and can be handled without biting, but care should always be taken.

Steatoda grossa, the smaller one, was first recorded in southern Ireland (and southern England) in the 1870s. Here is was largely confined for over a century but gradually spread northwards. Much later, in the early 1990s the larger Steatoda nobilis appeared, and it has spread all over the east coast and into the midlands now, where it is a very common species. False Widows are so-called because there are many species and most are completely harmless to humans, but they look almost identical to the true Widow spiders, the Latrodectids, such as the Black Widows, Brown Widow, White Widow, Australian Red-back Spider and New Zealand Katipo. There are actually MANY species and several are found in Europe, but not naturally in the British Isles or Scandinavia.

The irony is that of all the False Widow Spiders the two that have arrived in Britain and Ireland ARE mildly venomous to humans. But they are NOT aggressive spiders in any sense, and mostly like to be outside, although they do get into sheds and houses which do not have regular cleaning routines.

The venom of False Widows and Black Widows is a type of acid, so I hypothesised that cures and treatments used successfully on other acidic toxins, such as bee stings or nettles should also work with some degree of success on False Widow venom. Recently a friend was bitten by a small Steatoda grossa. The sting was quite powerful, but I’m happy to announce that treatment of the bite with crushed Dock leaf worked brilliantly and with almost immediate effect.

A leaf of Broad-leaved Dock photographed today...works great on nettle stings and False Widow bites. It SHOULD work on Black Widow bites too, as the venom is very close to that of False Widows. Baking Soda might work even better, but I haven't tested it yet.

Dock leaves can still be found outdoors in Ireland, but the frosts are starting to damage them. However, ordinary baking soda should also work to counteract the acid. HOWEVER, the Ph Balance in all human skin varies, so be careful as there are some people who could find their skin has a reaction to Baking Soda and to a lesser extent, Dock plants, although I’ve never encountered anyone with such problems. Paradoxically people who do have more acidic skin Ph will probably not suffer quite so much from acidic venom on their skin.

Always try treatments a little at a time, unless the pain is severe.

I plan to write more about False Widows soon, to help make identification easier, but there are few native Irish species like them. But do not be too worried because they are mainly outdoor spiders and the venom is not dangerous in its own right. The danger is that it could cause symptoms like other, more serious ailments. Mild muscle cramps in an area near the chest could cause someone with a heart problem, or their medic, to think they were in danger of cardiac arrest, so always record a bite or sting if you suffer one from any animal or plant no matter where in the world you happen to be when you suffer it.

Summer leaves…in December

It’s turned cold now in December, as it should, but the leaves of many deciduous trees that should normally be denuded by now are still to be found on some trees, glowing green, although a little bit rough around the edges in some cases. Our rare freakily warm November has kept the landscape largely green, but the return to normal temperatures with frosty nights will mean these leaves won’t last long.

Sycamore Tree with green leaves photographed two days ago.
Hazel leaves still photosynthesising on a tree in December.

 

Apple tree with leaves from three days ago.
Willow Tree with leaves, photographed two days ago.

One to watch out for – the Treecreeper

This is an excellent time of year to spot Treecreepers. The Treecreeper is a bird about the size of a sparrow, with excellently camouflaged brown feathers with a bright white belly, that makes it look like a broken piece of timber. This is a good look to have, as the Treecreeper, like its name suggests, lands on the bottom trunks of trees and crawls slowly up the bark looking for tiny insects hiding in little gaps and recesses in the bark. In order to get these little creatures it has an incredible beak, which is shaped like a curved tweezers, or needle-nose pliers. This is a common and widespread bird in Wicklow, but one of the least seen, and probably the least photographed because it moves unnoticed in the shade of trees. The photo below was taken by me two days ago, but it’s not great due to the low light. But you can perfectly see the strange beak of this remarkable, little known bird.

Treecreeper - Certhia familiaris - doing what it does best. Look out for these birds on tree trunks throughout Wicklow. Hard to spot, and hard to notice too, even when you're looking at them.