Opinion: Why have we been caught in web of sensationalism created by fuss about false widow spiders?

A false widow spider. Photot: PA. A false widow spider. Photot: PA.

Saturday, October 26, 2013
6:30 AM

It has been entertaining to watch the invasion of the deadly false widow spiders take hold of the country this week.

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Oh what’s that? They’re not deadly? They have a bite no worse than a wasp sting? The spiders have been in this 
country since the 1870s?

Judging by the reaction of many national newspapers and some members of the public you would think the swarm of evil, human-hungry spiders were responsible for deaths around the country.

But where has the mass over-reaction come from? One football player in Devon being bitten and having to have hospital treatment.

Hardly necessary of sparking national fears, was it?

So I was delighted to see that one of Norfolk’s councils felt the need to put on its best impression of Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army and warned its residents to not panic.

Yarmouth Borough Council staked its claim for a piece of the eight-legged hysteria on Wednesday after THREE reports of potential sightings of what may or may not have been false widow spiders.

Jeremy Marsh, from the council’s environmental health department, said: “The key message to the public is don’t panic. It is not a deadly invasion.

“They can bite and produce venom that could leave a slight swelling and tingling sensation, but usually the bite is no worse than a bee or wasp sting.”

So what was the need to react to this tiny public reaction? Three people in a borough with a population of around 97,000 is hardly cause for concern is it?

I understand spiders are not liked by many people, I’m not especially keen either and certainly don’t want to be bitten by one.

Surely we can all be more sensible, though? With every media outlet going reporting on the spiders, it’s not a surprise that some people who are scared of spiders jump to this conclusion.

If even one person had been bitten by one of these spiders in Yarmouth, then fair enough – but they haven’t.

Perhaps we should all keep some perspective and not get tangled up in a web of sensationalism.

Related links

False widow spider sightings on the rise in east Norfolk and reports of a ‘nest’ outside a Great Yarmouth home


  • couldn't have anything to do with the Press, could it? "We do not sensationalise" (Peter Waters, ex-editor EDP). Really? Pull the other one, pull all eight in fact...

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    martin wallis

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • There have been a number of cases reported in the press and on the BBC web site recently where the bites from these spiders have resulted in persistent unpleasant effects on the flesh of the bitten. One high profile case showed that of a man where the effect of the venom on the flesh required doctors to cut open his leg and reopen the wound several times.This is what is worrying people about the spiders, not that they might bite or that the bite is painful, but that the bite could be more damaging to the flesh than a wasp or bee sting. Something anyone with a baby or toddler would be worried about. It is a legitimate concern, just as much as we would be concerned if we had a wasp or hornet nest in our garage or under the eaves. Since most of us dont take much notice of spiders and would know a house spider but not much else, we are having to think twice about whether we are seeing a garden spider or something that would give Frodo the horrors. If the EDP wants to worry about sensationalism they should look at their coverage of the incinerator from start to finish

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    Daisy Roots

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

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