Venomous Spiders Force School to Switch to Online Learning

A school in England closed on Wednesday, September 29, leaving 1,500 pupils taught online, over a suspected infestation of false widow spiders—Britain's most venomous spider.

The Duston School, located in Northampton, is the second school in just as many weeks to send students home after a suspected false widow infestation. Malcolm Arnold Academy, also in Northampton, closed temporarily last week.

The school told parents on Tuesday night that the school would close while the outbreak is assessed and school is cleaned.

"I cannot apologize enough for the inconvenience that this may cause you, especially in terms of organizing child care arrangements," said headteacher Sam Strickland in a letter, via BBC.

"However, the health and safety of the school community must come first and foremost. Work will be set for all of our pupils to complete at home via Microsoft Teams."

False widow spiders are the most venomous in Britain, although the bite is no stronger than a wasp sting. It is often mistaken for the similar-looking black widow spider, which has a potentially fatal bite.

The false widow's bite can be painful and the pain can radiate away from the bite, lasting between one and 12 hours, according to the Natural History Museum. However, the spiders tend to only bite when provoked or trapped against skin.

There have been cases of hospitalization which are thought to have been caused by false widow spider bites, though these are pinpointed to later infections rather than the venom itself.

Each fall, false widow spiders begin entering the homes and buildings across the U.K., as the climate becomes cooler.

The very first false widow was recorded in the UK in the 1870s, likely from a cargo ship from the insect's native Madeira and the Canary Islands. However, it gained footing in the 1980s, when it established larger populations in the south of the country—though it has now spread northwards too.

The Duston School reopened today, September 30, after approval from local authority. In a second letter home, via NorthantsLive, the headteacher said: "Firstly I would like to thank you for your forbearance and patience following today's school closure.

"I do not take closing the school lightly unless it is absolutely essential to do so.

"The health and safety of our community is rightly front and center in decision making.

"The Local Authority, Amey and Ecolab have been on school site today, dealing with the situation at hand. They have been in regular contact throughout the day and have assured me that it is safe for the school to re-open tomorrow.

"Therefore, the school will be open as normal to all pupils on Thursday, September 30 and follow the normal timings of the school day.

"I thank the overwhelming majority of parents and guardians for your continued support and understanding."

False widow spider in web
Stock image of a false widow spider. Getty Images