The uninvited guest

An Cailín Rua

AMOROUS INTENT Tegenaria, or house spiders, are usually seen in the autumn months when males leave their webs in search of females.

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

One night last week around 1.30am I was jolted awake, by either a noise outside or a strange dream. Unable to get back to sleep I took myself downstairs, barefoot, to get some water from the fridge.
Switching on the light, I was greeted in the kitchen by an unexpected guest. With eight very long legs. His accusatory look from his position right in front of the fridge suggested that I had just interrupted him from making himself a sandwich and a cup of tea.
Now, I don’t generally mind spiders, but I was a bit discombobulated at that hour. And this fella (at least, I think it was a fella) was very, very big.
I contemplated my options. Go back to sleep and try convince myself it was just a dream? Hand him the keys to the house there and then? Burn the house down? Usher him politely out the front door? The last option felt like the most palatable and humane, but also the most nerve-wracking, and I had a horrible feeling that as he tried to depart the scene of his botched crime, his route to escape route might cross my toes.
So I fled to get shoes, and of course, the minute my back was turned, yer man disappeared. A search of the kitchen proved fruitless, I had visions of him and his legs sprinting up the stairs and abseiling from the ceiling into my bed, and I must admit I didn’t sleep so well that night.
The next day, after a cautious sweep of the house (no sightings) I read a delightful headline in the papers. ‘Ireland faces ‘significant population’ of false widow spiders in next 20 years’. Accompanied, of course, by what I felt was an unnecessarily large photo of one of these venomous beasts (Note to editor: think of the arachnophobes!)
Shuddering, I tried to recall the finer features of my now undercover guest – who for all I knew was making himself at home in the toaster or, if ‘he’ were in fact a ‘she’, hiding behind the fridge having babies – to see if they bore any resemblance to the predator in the paper.
I concluded that my friend was not a false widow but was simply well fed and had during spider adolescence enjoyed a growth spurt. A bit of googling revealed – among some more unnecessarily large photos – that my handsome hairy friend was in fact a ‘tegenaria’, also known as the giant house spider. While they can bite, it’s very rare, and for the most part, when they appear, they are searching for a mate. So, it wasn’t a sandwich himself was after, then. I wasn’t sure whether to feel reassured, or nervous.
Joking aside, the episode got me thinking. Early research suggests that these types of spiders, harmless or not, are getting bigger, because of increasing temperatures.
The arrival and rapid spread of the false widow, an invasive species, comes at a time of worrying insect decline and suggests that not all is well in the natural world. Something that is often ignored or forgotten in the climate change conversation, where so much of the focus is on air pollution and large-scale, visible damage, is the irreparable, invisible harm to our ecosystem – the declining health of our soil and our insect and invertebrate population. This has serious implications for the health of our soil, resulting in depleted crop production, a threat to food supplies.
Damage to the soil reduces its capacity to absorb carbon and can also affect the annual cycles of plants and animals, resulting in lower yields. At a time when the world is starting to look towards biofuel as an alternative to fossil fuel, soil health is more vital than ever. Spiders, incidentally, play a role in crop yield too, as they can consume harmful pests. Every small being has its place in the ecosystem; however, some are struggling to survive, more than others.
Is this a compelling argument for being a little bit kinder to uninvited house guests? I’ll let the reader decide. But bear in mind that if you commit murder, friends and family may well arrive en masse for the funeral.