"Brace yourself!" screamed The Sun, for they are "seemingly taking over Britain" according to The Daily Telegraph. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail warned that an "influx are heading for your home". No, not refugees, Isis or Corbynites, it's spiders that have tangled them in a web of hysteria. We're now in "spider season", which means stories about arachnids seem as plentiful as any we might spot shimmying round the bath or scuttling across the carpet.
"It happens every year. It's called autumn," says Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire. "Mid-September to mid-October is generally the time when male house spiders go out on the hunt for a mate, so you're more likely to see one." Hence The Sun's "Horny spiders are coming" headline.
"There are around 650 different species of spider in the UK, but only around 12 that you'd see in the house," says Hart, who last year developed an app called Spiders in da House with the Society of Biology. (It helps people to identify exactly which species it is before they drown it.) And they're "fascinating creatures", he continues: "They produce silk, their venom can be used in medicine and they're really quite beautiful when you look at their markings."
According to Hart, the app has been downloaded 50,000 times since its launch, but he admits that getting up close to Scytodes thoracica (the "spitting spider") or Salticidae (the "jumping spider") won't be for everyone. "Seeing a spider in your home can be startling and, if a warm summer has meant an abundance of flies to feast on, they can be quite large at this time of year. Let's be honest, spiders are the opposite of cute – they're fast-moving, angular and dark – but we're lucky in Britain that we have no reason to fear them."
You see, despite reports to the contrary, the immigrant "false widow" hasn't killed anyone in Britain yet, only sent them to hospital for a week or two. And yet four per cent of the population are scared of spiders – which perhaps explains why this week a company called Tiger Shed launched "the world's first spider-proof garden shed". With airtight windows and silicone-sealed doors, it offers owners a "10-year anti-spider-infestation guarantee". The £2,000 shed comes in pale blue, a colour "scientifically proven" to repel arachnids. (There's a tenuous theory that they confuse light-blue walls with the sky.) It is lined with "spider-proof paper" and even has the optional extra of having peppermint and citrus impregnated into the wood, as spiders are thought to hate the smells. Nor, apparently are they fans of cedar, tobacco, vinegar, tea tree, eucalyptus or conkers. Talk about fussy.
Hannah Moore, spokeswoman for Tiger Sheds, said: "We'd had several requests for a spider-proof shed from people too afraid to venture into their outbuildings in case spiders were lurking. We spent a lot of time researching spider deterrents and liaised with numerous arachnid experts to come up with the product, which we're confident will keep spiders out."
Matt Shardlow, the CEO of the charity Bug Life, isn't convinced. "There is no scientific analysis that this shed would stay spider-free," he says. "The only thing that might work is impregnations of the surface with smelly insecticide but we'd expect that to leave the wood after a certain amount of time."
Still, the appliance of science is getting results. After Mazda and Toyota had to recall models due to clogs and cracks attributed to webs or eggs from the yellow sac spider, Ford patented a "spider screen" to stop such creatures crawling under the bonnet of its cars and causing engine damage.
Hope for the arachnophobe, then? "There are thousands of spiders in the average house so you can't possibly get rid of them all," says Shardlow (in a sentence that suddenly makes Tiger Shed seem like a good idea). "We'd encourage people to tolerate spiders. Try to remember that they do eat flies, and that arachnophobia is a treatable condition."
And if all else fails, a glass slipped over a newspaper – preferably not one with an "Invasion of the Killer Spiders" headline – is still a good option.µ