‘Giant House spiders’ cry “please release me, let me go …”
Posted in: Stuart's Blog on September 13, 2016.
‘Spider Season’ is officially OPEN for business – A tell-tale sign you may have seen are large hairy individuals running across the living room carpet or discovered lounging in your bath. It becomes part of office and workplace conversation; “you should have seen the size of the spider in our house last night … it was bigger than a mouse”. In turn these conversations and reports become headline news and a plethora of media articles are spawned, cloned and rehashed – most playing on peoples’ natural and latent fear of spiders.
Read all about it …
Usually these articles very kindly inform people that their homes are being ‘INVADED’ by ‘GIANT SEX CRAZED’ spiders that are ‘BIGGER’ and there are ‘MORE’ of them than ever before.
Well at least that’s what much of the media would have us believe.
Meanwhile, back in the real World …
In truth they are not ‘GIANT’, not ‘more numerous’, not ‘INVADING’ and are neither ‘DEADLY’ nor ‘KILLER’ … they are not ‘SEX CRAZED’ either, sexually mature and sexually active yes. So they are in fact simply getting on with business as usual and procreation is a very serious business.
So what’s going on? A very sensible question as understanding their behaviour helps to manage our unwarranted fear and can help control their presence in our homes.
Let’s start with identification. The spider species concerned are 2 or 3 species from the group commonly known as ‘House spiders’ and placed scientifically in the Genus Tegenaria (That’s teh-jen-air-ee-ah). In the autumn the males of these spiders become sexually mature and to achieve this they moult their skin for the final time. In doing so their mature swollen palps are revealed and these are used for mating and particularly for transferring sperm to the female.
So now it’s time to leave the web and ‘to boldly go where no spider has gone before’ in search of the ladies. At dusk they leave the dark corners and recesses where they build their webs, running across open ground, climbing walls and even running over roof tops. Once they have put a bit of distance between them and their web they now look again for dark corners and recesses where the web of a female may be found. Using sensory detectors on their palps they can also smell the alluring pheromones of the female spiders. They readily enter open doors, windows and open chimneys in their quest for love. However, once in our homes the environment is suddenly quite alien, carpets, shiny polished floors, strange smells and the threatening vibrations of gigantic animals (that’s us) as we move about and speak. This is not a great place to be, they move about, climbing walls running across carpets desperately trying to get away from this alien environment where actually lady spiders are very rarely found.
As intimidating as these large, hairy and long legged males appear we are much more frightening to them. Our homes are hostile environments where love is rarely found, either from lady spiders or the householders. They would much rather be outside again in the fresh air where the natural environment is more familiar and the chances of finding their sole mate is far higher.
The invading hoards … of Giants …
Many media headlines are also telling us that there is an invasion afoot and there are more than ever before … and they are giants too. Populations do of course rise and fall in response to a number of factors, including predators, environmental factors and many more. These are the natural dynamics of populations. So in such cases of arguably more observations of spiders my first thoughts are:
- what are the spiders doing?
- what are we doing?
- what is the weather like now?
- what has the weather been like in previous years?
- any other potential factors?
So here’s my thinking …
The male spiders are in the ‘lusty’ wandering phase of their life, they have but one thing on their minds and the strong urge to procreate leads them away from the former comfort of their web.
If the weather conditions that they are met with are cold, wet and generally miserable they are less likely to travel too far in pursuit and probably be inclined to stay in the shed, garage or loft space and look for females there … (typical male behaviour then). And if any brave souls do venture out they find our doors and windows are closed to them – this keeps out the cold, wet … and spiders.
However, if the weather is warm, dry and humid these males are more likely to travel out and for further distances. They are more likely to find our homes where windows and doors are open … welcome all spiders, please step this way.
Are they giants?
Well, the more we see the greater the chance that we will see examples larger than we have seen before … or at least larger than we recall seeing before.
One of the more common species finding their way into our homes goes by the name Tegenaria gigantea, ‘gigantea’ implying ‘giant’, which in turn becomes its common name ‘The Giant House spider’ – that said it is not the largest species of ‘House spider’ found in the UK – that accolade goes to the males of ‘The Cardinal spider’, Tegenaria parietina, with their gargantuan 5-inch leg span.
So to explain the truth behind the headline ‘Giant Invading Hordes’ my hypothesis is simply this:
It is very unlikely that we are seeing a population explosion, but in years that we see more of these spiders in our homes this coincides with prolonged warm dry autumn weather when our windows and doors remain open for good periods.
QED we are seeing more and in seeing more we are likely to see some larger examples.
To control … or not to control …
In terms of ‘pest control’ there is little we need to do … they are not pests, they cause no damage to our homes and they do us no harm (although they understandably appear menacing to arachnophobes). So the solution is relatively simple and effective, keeping doors and windows shut tight, particularly at dusk. Additionally, I would gently urge those arachnophobes to find some reassurance in the fact that they are not ‘out to get you’, rather they are more keen to get out. Understanding their biology, their natural history, what they are about can be very effective in helping people overcome such fears.
If that’s not possible then there’s always ‘grandma’s remedy’ as mad or as bonkers as that may seem you can always reach for the conkers. Many arachnophobes swear by the anti-arachnid properties of conkers placed in the corners of rooms or on windowsills. Insect Identification Services says we do not vouch for their efficacy. Although conkers contain the chemical saponin, which is toxic to insects and spiders, we can see little evidence that a handful of conkers would deter spiders from entering homes.
The end of the line …
Sadly, this period is almost the end of the line for these mature males and they will not live for many more days or weeks. Outside of their webs prey is more difficult to catch and all that running about putting the frighteners on people quickly uses up their stored energy and they are short lived. If they are successful in finding their ‘significant other’ they may be accepted into her web to mate and perhaps share a meal or two for a few weeks. On the other hand, she may be hostile to the gentleman’s advances and simple see him as her next meal.
So there we have it, being a mature male house spider isn’t all it’s cracked up to be householders generally don’t like you, you are pilloried by the media, finding a mate is like a quest from Indiana Jones … and when you do find the love of your short life she might just eat you.
So next time you see one dash out to the centre stage of your carpet just imagine him singing that old Engelbert Humperdinck classic “Please release me, let me go” and liberate him back to a better place.