The widows are coming

Despite appearances, this is not a black widow or redback spider – and that’s the point really.

This is a Noble False Widow (Steatoda nobilis), an arachnid that derives a survival advantage by looking like the much more venomous species.

It is also an inveterate traveller. In recent decades it has hitched rides on ships and planes and spread from its core homelands, Madeira and the Canary Islands, establishing itself in western Europe and around the Mediterranean rim.

Lately it has also set up beachhead populations in California, South America and Central Europe.

Writing in the journal Neobiota, a team of scientists led by Tobias Bauer from the State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe in Germany has mapped the invasion pathways of the False Widow in an attempt to understand not only its past movements but also to predict where it might crop up next.

“South Africa, some areas in southern Australia, and a large part of New Zealand turn out to be highly likely targets for future invasions, unless appropriate import control measures are implemented,” the report concludes.

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