Citing “the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff,” a Northampton, UK school evacuated students from campus Friday morning.
The incident, which kept the school closed the following Monday as well, was prompted by a false widow spider sighting.
Malcolm Arnold Academy in Northampton sent the majority of its students home and isolated the remaining students in a separate building, allowing pest control full access to the facilities while it removes the spiders.
No students or faculty were hurt or bitten. The incident has some in the area questioning the school’s response, while others praised the cautious approach.
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Often mistaken for their more deadly and dangerous relative, the black widow spider, false widows have a complicated reputation in the UK for a few reasons.
According to the Burke Museum, “it all started in 1991, when a young woman in West Sussex, England was bitten by a female Steatoda nobilis.” This young woman reported symptoms consistent with the presence of neurotoxins, and because bites from false widows are rare, this description of their bites became an oft-repeated and distorted refrain.
While false widow bites can cause pain (similar to a wasp’s sting), a larger concern is the possibility of infection at the site of the bite, worsening the symptoms. For this reason, although most false widow encounters are completely peaceful, they have an outsized reputation that remains to this day.
Rod Crawford, writing for the Burke Museum presciently noted that “on a slow news day, one person finding one spider makes a headline!”
For Malcolm Arnold Academy, the complicated legacy of the false widow left the school with a difficult decision, and the team ultimately chose the safest approach.
A similar encounter (and response) occurred in 2018, with the school again closing its doors briefly to deal with spiders. Fortunately, no one was harmed at that time, either.
Learn more about false widow spiders, including just how dangerous (or not) they really are, at Spider and Harvestman Recording Scheme here!Whizzco