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The Widow’s Arrival

Noble false widow (source: Martin Cooper https://www.flickr.com/photos/m-a-r-t-i-n/18476684753)
By Eimear Ashe, Documentation Officer, National Museum of Ireland


Further images can be found at the bottom of the page​

Reading a museum ‘register’ you will discover all the items we have acquired, when we got them, from whom, and many more interesting details. During a recent project digitising the registers of the Natural History Division, I came across an intriguing handwritten entry:
 

NH:2002.28: Steatoda nobilis (Thorell, 1875) (Arachnida: Araneae); Presented by [personal data withheld]; [personal data withheld] Bray Co. Wicklow; Female presented Late August 1998. Found while clearing an outhouse in back garden of residence. Identified by Myles Nolan. New to Ireland when found.
 

Most of us in Ireland have heard about this recent arrival, but few would know its scientific name, Steatoda nobilis. This spider is more commonly known as the noble false widow.

Interestingly, in an article published at the time (Nolan 1999), Myles Nolan tells the reader that a couple of weeks prior to the aforementioned Bray discovery, another person had found a great number of these spiders on their own property, approximately 250m away from the Bray residence. The author observed at the time that these spiders have a high reproductive rate, and that the spiderlings are inclined to disperse widely from the egg sac, perhaps accounting for this species' ability to colonise easily.

The Museum specimen detailed in our acquisition register is, however, the first valid Irish record as an identified specimen was lodged with the Museum. That specimen (called a ‘voucher specimen’) is now stored safely in the Museum and is available for study and research.

As Ireland currently houses relatively few animals who pose a risk to human health, this new arachnid is now of great curiosity to the public. The reports, however, are over emphasised, and there is little for humans to fear from the noble false widow.

A recent report from the Irish scientific community however, showed that a common lizard had been preyed upon by this diminutive spider (Dunbar et al. 2018). The young lizard was discovered wrapped in spider webbing, with the noble false widow crouched over its head, presumed to have been feeding on it – a potential worry for Ireland’s only native terrestrial reptile.
The noble false widow can now be found in at least 17 Irish counties, all year round, both indoors and out (although more so the latter). They have a strong tendency to live on manmade structures and materials, such as steel, concrete and timber. Sheds, outhouses and boundary railings provide the perfect habitat for our new arrival.

Keep an eye on our social media later in 2022 for the reopening of the Irish Room in the Natural History Museum. There you will be able to browse the exhibitions of Irish spiders, insects and other fascinating local invertebrates.
 

Further Reading

Nolan, M. (1999). Three Spiders (Araneae) New to Ireland: Bolyphantes alticeps, Oonops domesticus and Steatoda nobilis. Irish Naturalists' Journal, 26 (5/6), pp. 200-202. Available from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25536251 [accessed 28 June 2022]

Dugon, M.M., Dunbar, J.P., Afoullouss, S, Schulte, J., McEvoy, A., English, M.J., Hogan, R., Ennis, C., and Sulpice, R. (2017). Occurrence, reproductive rate and identification of the non-native Noble false widow spider Steatoda nobilis (Thorell, 1875) in Ireland. Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. 117B (2), pp. 77-89. Available from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3318/bioe.2017.11 [accessed 28 June 2022]

Dunbar, J.P., Ennis, C., Gandola, R., and Dugon, M.M. (2018). Biting off more than one can chew: first record of the non-native Noble false widow spider Steatoda nobilis (Thorell, 1875) feeding on the native Viviparous lizard Zootoca vivipara (Lichtenstein, 1823) in Ireland. Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. 118B (1), pp. 45-48. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3318/bioe.2018.05 [accessed 28 June 2022]

 
 

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