A seventh school in London has closed since last week after the discovery of false widow spiders, a decision criticised by scientists as “a complete overreaction”.
Eastlea Community School in Newham is the third secondary school to close after Rokeby School and Lister Community School, also both in east London, closed their doors upon discovering populations of the arachnids.
Four primary schools in east London have also closed after false widow spiders were found on premises.
Arachnologists have described the closures as “insane”, saying the small spiders, which can bite, pose virtually no risk to pupils.
Lawrence Bee, spokesman for the British Arachnological Society, told The Independent last week: “What’s happened with these schools is a complete overreaction.
“People have probably got [false widow spiders] in their gardens. They are not aggressive, unless they are really severely provoked they tend to keep themselves to themselves, and they tend to be active at night rather than during the day.”
He said the spiders bit people “very, very rarely” and their venom would cause “a small reaction” only in those who are “particularly susceptible”.
“All this hysteria, with pest control firms going in to fumigate the school, is way over-the-top,” Mr Bee added. ”It’s not something worth the money they are going to be spending on it.”
Science writer Jack Ashby, who manages Cambridge University’s Zoology Museum, tweeted: “This is insane. London schools will close for weeks due to some mildly venomous spiders. It will make children fearful of nature.
“Let’s remember that kids go to schools in countries where there actually are dangerous spiders.”
School closures over false widow spiders ‘insane’, say scientists
But Newham Council said the closures were to protect “those that are vulnerable”.
Last week a spokesperson from the council told the Newham Recorder the schools had been closed to treat a "noble false widow spider infestation".
It said: “The spiders only bite if mishandled or provoked. The venom is not particularly potent. Often, the symptoms are no worse than the pain of a wasp sting; however, extra precautions need to be taken around those that are vulnerable ie. under the age of five, the elderly or those on medication.
“The schools are being treated and fumigated and we are working with the schools to ensure that children can continue to receive an education whilst their school is closed. Pupils are being set work via the schools and will remain in contact with schools.”
The venomous arachnid, which has been in Britain for the past 130 years, is a cousin of the deadly black widow spider, but unlike its close relative, its bites are not fatal to humans.
There have been isolated cases of people needing hospital treatment after being bitten, but generally, symptoms are typically limited to pain around the bite and swelling. Most serious cases are often due to an allergic reaction to the spider’s venom.