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Spider eats native Irish lizard in first recorded case

The unusual scene was recorded in a private garden in Killiney, Co Dublin in May 2017.

The Noble False Widow spider, which has colonised much of Ireland
The Noble False Widow spider, which has colonised much of Ireland
Image: NUI Galway

A SPIDER HAS BEEN recorded eating a lizard belonging to Ireland’s only native terrestrial reptile species – the first such recorded case in Ireland.

The noble false widow spider, which has colonised much of Ireland since first being recorded here 20 years ago, was observed feeding on the viviparous lizard.

The unusual scene was recorded in a private garden in Killiney, Co Dublin in May 2017.

The 8.5cm juvenile viviparous lizard was found entangled on a web with the 3.3cm noble false widow spider feeding on its flesh.

The report has been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy journal by researchers from the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway and the Herpetological Society of Ireland today.

The somewhat gruesome scene is not uncommon in the tropics, where a handful of spider species are known to sometimes feed on birds, rodents or reptiles. However, it is not something Ireland is accustomed to.

Noble false widows spiders have become more prevalent in Irish homes in recent years. While not thought to be life-threatening to humans, a bite from the spider delivers a fast-acting neurotoxic venom which can cause pain and discomfort for a few days.

“While black widows are known to prey on small reptiles, there are only two previous accounts from other species of false widow spiders preying on a lizard in Iran and on a snake in Bulgaria,” Dr Michel Dugon from the Venom Systems Laboratory in the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway said.

Lizard endangerment

Co-Author Collie Ennis and Rob Gandola from the Herpetological Society of Ireland added that as the noble false widow spider follows the increasing urban spread into Ireland’s countryside, “the possibility of them coming into contact with native wildlife will no doubt increase”.

“We are right in the middle of the lizard birthing season and this is when most lizard sightings are made and when juveniles are likely to turn up in gardens,” the researchers added.

Lizard1 Ireland’s only native terrestrial reptile, the Viviparous lizard Source: NUI Galway

Female lizards give birth to between six to 11 babies that are jet black and about 40mm long. It’s the baby lizards that move into new areas.

“It’s the juveniles that disperse to new areas but given their tiny size you can see how this is a dangerous endeavour,” the researchers said.

The researchers are calling for people who have lizards to report any sightings of the noble false widows.

We’d ask people who are lucky enough to have lizards near or on their property to keep a watch out and report any sightings of noble false widows predating on lizards.

“It would be really helpful to get an idea of how frequent these interactions occur and even the size classes involved, it may not only be young lizards that fall prey.”

In Ireland, noble false widow spiders live close to buildings and occupied homes. Dublin, Cork and Wexford have the highest number of noble false widows to date.

To report noble false widow spider and viviparous lizard sightings in Ireland, contact michel.dugon@nuigalway.ie or call 091 494491.

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