Tag Archives: toxin

October Twilight

October is a very strange time of year – September seems like an extension of summer, but colder, and then very suddenly October arrives and the flowers of summer begin to die off, the leaves yellow, or redden, or both, and fall off deciduous trees as the nights grow longer than the days. Everywhere gets gradually more muddy as leaves, flowers and berries decay on the ground.  But there is still a lot to see amid all the nostalgia of another year growing to an end.

There are still some Swallows flying about on their journey south back to Africa. It's a good time to see and photograph them as they perch on wires. The light might not be so good though.
There are still some Swallows flying about on their journey south back to Africa. It’s a good time to see and photograph them as they perch on wires. The light might not be so good though.

At this time of year our swallows, the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), tend to perch for long periods to rest their weary muscles before making their autumn migrations. There were definitely fewer of them around Wicklow this summer, which is slightly worrying as something must be preventing them arriving safely in Wicklow.

The Autumn Hawker dragonfly usually arrives in August to hunt butterflies and other insects. This year they didn't arrive until mid-September and you can still see them patrolling footpaths and garden driveways.
The Autumn Hawker dragonfly usually arrives in August to hunt butterflies and other insects. This year they didn’t arrive until mid-September and you can still see them patrolling footpaths and garden driveways.

Ironically our autumn was better than our summer this year, although not quite as warm, although certainly more stable. Eventually the annual arrival of big dragonflies occurred, the Migrant or Autumn Hawkers (Aesna mixta) and there are still a few around, although very difficult to photograph or video as they fly. I usually watch one land and slowly approach to get a good photo. If you move slow they will remain still.  But there are some other very interesting insects around, and some are both interesting and slightly creepy, such as this one:

A noctunal visito to a window, this large and handsome insect is a Burying Beetle.
A noctunal visito to a window, this large and handsome insect is a Burying Beetle.

Burying Beetles are quite closely related to chafer beetles (like the Cockchafer) and dung beetles, like the Common Dor Beetle. However, unlike these beetles, Burying Beetles lay their eggs in corpses which they find in the countryside, and they actually bury the animals they find underground. They are very intelligent creatures and very recently it was discovered (with the aid of special cameras) that they keep their larvae in nests and will feed them mouth-to-mouth, as birds do. Even more remarkable, the young ‘tweet’ when they’re hungry. This extremely handsome species is Necrophorus investigator (but there are many very similar ones and some even quite different. Watch out for them this autumn as they fly across the deep night skies.

 

An Early Autumn

Sadly our summer was not up to much this year, with only a couple of warm weeks in early August. However, I did find one beautiful creature which I have never seen before, or since – a tiny species of Soldier Beetle, Malthinus flaveolus.

A stunning little beetle, Malthinus flaveolus.
A stunning little beetle, Malthinus flaveolus.

We have now entered the time of year when wasp numbers are at their highest and spiders are on the move, alarming many people. Bee populations seem to have crashed in the last few weeks, with the temperatures struggling against a chilly north wind, but there have been wasp stings and some spider encounters, including one bite received from a False Widow which was reported to me yesterday, so I made a little video describing how best to treat stings and bites, and I hope it will be found useful:

I’m working on a little video about spiders which I hope will be also useful and am going to have that up on the blog as soon as possible. Please feel free to comment as feedback and ideas are always welcome. If you feel there are shortcomings in what I deal with don’t be afraid to point them out and I’ll try and deal with them or cover them at a later time.

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.