CUMBRIAN wildlife experts have moved to allay fears the false widow spider has been spotted in the county.

Gazette reader Cher Oprey sent in this picture of a eight-legged ‘visitor’ she caught at her Grange-over-Sands house on Sunday evening.

The 29-year-old, who works as an holistic therapist at the town’s Faze 2, said: “I walked into the bedroom to find a spider hanging on the curtain. I looked on the internet and was certain it was the false widow.

“I was petrified, I didn’t get to sleep until 2am.”

Ms Oprey and fiancé David Seef, 31, set the spider, which is a close relative to the deadly black widow, free but not before taking a quick photograph.

But David Harpley, conservation manager at Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Gary Hedges, recording officer at Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre, Carlisle, both agreed the picture was inconclusive.

“The spiders have been in the south of England for over 130 years and Europe for even longer,” said Mr Hedges.

“Since the national media have started reporting sightings more people have contacted us and even started bringing them in.

“None of them have been identified as false widows.”

And Mr Harpley added that although the spiders were venomous they ‘packed no more punch than bees or wasps.’ “They are not usually aggressive towards humans and being bitten is rare,” he added.

However in 2009 Egremont grandmother Lyn Mitchell almost died when she was bitten by a false widow as she slept in her home. She fell into a coma and was on life support in hospital for 26 hours.

Pip Collyer, secretary at the British Arachnological Society, said in the last month it had been inundated with inquiries.

“Much of the media has gone well over the top but we have been surprised at how neurotic many people are. Sadly many innocent spiders have suffered.

“One simple test which can be applied is that if the spider is in an orb web (bicycle wheel shape) it is not a false widow.”

The false widow, steatoda nobilis, is believed to have arrived in Britain in crates of fruit from the Canary Islands in the late 19th century, with the first reported sighting in Torquay in 1879.

They have an abdomen the size of a 1p piece and generally live in walls, fences and the barks of trees. They eat insects, other invertebrates and even other spiders.