New study reveals noble false widow more potent than native Irish spiders – Independent.ie

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A false widow spider
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David Cendon

A recent study by NUI Galway (NUIG) shows that the venom of a noble false widow spider is 230 times more potent than that of native Irish spiders.
With the results attributing its success in recent years to their “super strong venom and amazing fighting strategies,” according to the scientists.
This venom can cause a range of mild to severe symptoms in those bitten, which is what has made the all-too-common spider such a feared sight across homes in Ireland over the past couple of years.
With one bite enough to send people to the hospital due to its toxic venom.
“The tiniest amounts of venom – about 1,000th of a raindrop – can cause medically significant symptoms in humans that are about 250,000 times larger than them. Each new study brings us closer to understanding how exactly they are achieving their success,” said Dr John Dunbar, co-senior author of the study.
Originating from Madeira and the Canary Islands, the spider was first reported in England in 1879, since then the species has increased its range and population density in recent decades.
Spreading not only to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, but across the globe. It can be found today in Europe, East Asia, North and South America.
“Over the past number of years, we have seen a noticeable increase in Irish populations of noble false widow,” said Joint first author of the study Sean Rayner.
The noble false widow spider has the potential to become one of the world’s most invasive spiders, according to the study.
A team of scientists from the Ryan Institute at NUIG have found that the noble false widow (Steatoda nobilis) does not only carry a more potent venom than that of a common Northern European spider, but that it excels in adapting its attacking behaviour to different battle scenarios.
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The study, published last Friday, found that noble false widows calculate the success of attacking prey by gauging how much venom is left in their venom glands.
If they have little venom left, they focus on smaller prey so as to not risk injury or death – as suggested in the venom optimisation hypothesis.
The scientists also found that in a fight, the spider targets the most innervated body parts of its prey, where the neurotoxic venom is most efficient.
This proves that its methods are not random – resulting in a 95pc success rate when attacking its prey.
Over the past five years, the team at the University’s Venom Systems Lab, led by Dr Michel Dugon, have been studying a wide range of characteristics specific to the species including its venom, symptoms after envenomation, ecology, and behaviour.
“Over the years, we have learned a lot about the noble false widow and its venom. This study is another important step to understand the true impact this species has on the ecosystems it invades throughout the world,” said Dr Dugon, senior author of the study.
Aiste Vitkauskaite, joint-author of the study, said “We are hoping that our findings will lead to wider field-based studies to quantify the true impact of this alien species on native arachnids.”
The team of scientists are encouraging members of the public to email them at falsewidow@nuigalway.ie to report sightings of the noble false widow spider.
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