FROM false widow spiders to deadly fungi, the arrival of autumn brings its own set of deadly dangers in the natural world.

This week angler Arfon Summers, 39, was stunned to hook a potentially lethal lionfish off the coast of Dorset. 

The six-inch fish, which has 13 spines packed with venom, can cause paralysis and death as well as inflict extreme pain and vomiting.

At the same time, experts warn that the colder weather will see a flood of spiders, including the venomous false widow, invading our homes.

And Brits enjoying long walks through autumnal woodland are also facing warnings about deadly fungi, berries and the spread of toxic caterpillar nests.

Here, we look at all the natural hazards to watch out for this season.

False widow spiders

September and October sees spiders flood our homes as mating season coincides with the colder weather, driving them indoors. 

This month two schools in Northampton were forced to evacuate after a suspected outbreak.

Although first recorded in the UK in the 1870s, the number of false widows – the most poisonous spider in the UK – has increased in recent years, leading to a rise in bites, especially in autumn.

False widow spider bites have been compared to wasp stings by victims, but can cause much more severe symptoms including debilitating pain and intense swelling. 

Some have experienced tremors, reduced or elevated blood pressure, nausea, impaired mobility and even severe bacterial infections. 

Carl Jones, 26, ended up with a horrendous flesh-eating wound five months after being bitten in January.

Lab technician Carl, from Milton Keynes, Bucks, suffered pus-filled blisters, sweating and fever after his wound became infected.

Teenager Abby Tannetta needed emergency surgery when she was bitten by a spider as she slept in her parents' caravan in Wales in May.

The stabbing pain woke her, and she saw the spider crawling away from the bed.

A few days later the 18-year-old was dizzy, weak and feverish, with a bite the size of a golf ball.

She collapsed on the way to surgery but doctors were able to drain the infected area and remove the lump.

"I was already really scared of spiders before this,” she told The Sun.

"But now I'm too scared to even go back to the caravan and the sight of any tiny spider makes me feel sick and terrified."

Deadly mushrooms

This is the time of year foragers often go in search of mushrooms, but it’s a deadly lottery unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

The UK is home to five highly poisonous fungi with the best known, and most deadly, being the death cap.

Over 200 mushroom poisonings are recorded in the UK every year with the death cap causing the most fatalities in the UK.

Christina Hale, from Somerset, tragically died in 2013 after mistakenly making a soup from death caps she found in her garden, which she also served to her husband Jonathan.

The couple were rushed to hospital the following day and the 58-year-old housewife died from multiple organ failure.

The inquest in Taunton heard that consuming just half a death cap mushroom can be fatal and there is no antidote.

The death cap can is identified by its olive-brown shiny cap without warts or spots and is often darker in the centre of the cap. 

They have white gills and grow in woods, particularly around oak trees.

Other poisonous mushrooms include the pure white destroying angel, the pointed brown web cap and the panther cap, which is brown with white spots.


As the trees turn to red and yellow, long walks in the countryside are the perfect exercise.

But beware of ticks lurking in the long grass, which can cause debilitating Lyme disease with their bites.

Model Bella Hadid, singers Justin Bieber, Avril Lavigne and Shania Twain, and ex-England rugby player Matt Dawson have all spoken about their struggles with the condition.

There are around 900 reported cases of Lyme disease in the UK each year,with many going undiagnosed or being confused with flu – and most recently Covid.

Danger zones include long grass and woodlands, and an early sign you have been bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease – not all do – is a circular or oval rash around the bite.

I felt like an elephant had sat on my neck – I was groggy and aching all over

Often pink, red or purple and lighter or darker at the centre, like a bull’s eye, it may spread slowly but is rarely hot or itchy.

It usually appears after one to four weeks but can take up to three months to show.

Flu-like symptoms may also follow, with heavy tiredness, and it can lead to short-term memory loss, facial palsy and heart trouble.

The ticks are pinhead to marble size, growing as they suck your blood, and should be plucked off as soon as discovered using tweezers or by hand, and the wound should then be washed.

Nursery worker Kelly Allaway was bitten last September and had to put her job on hold after suffering insomnia and headaches.

She only realised something was wrong when a rash developed on her leg and she woke one day feeling unwell.

Kelly, 44, from Bristol, says: “I felt like an elephant had sat on my neck – I was groggy and aching all over.”

If you're a dog owner, remember to regularly check your pet for ticks after a rural walk.

Oak processionary moth

The larvae of the oak processionary moth have hatched by this time of year but the bulging nests they leave on the trunks of trees can still be highly toxic.

They cause skin and eye irritations, sore throats and breathing difficulties in people and animals who come into contact with them.

Dog walkers in Surrey and the home counties have recently noticed signs warning them not to touch the nests and to keep dogs on a lead.

One owner whose pooch fell foul of the toxic creature in 2018 posted a horrific picture of his swollen, blistered nose as a warning to other walkers.

Benson the Jack Russell sniffed a nest on Surrey’s Frensham common.

"Within six hours, parts of his ears, eyes and nose started to swell up and he was immediately taken to the vet,” said his anonymous owner.

He was treated with antibiotics. 

Weever fish 

Cold-water swimming has taken off since lockdown but brave sea swimmers should beware of the venomous weever fish, which burrows in the sand and delivers a nasty sting to anyone who treads on it.

The brown fish, between four and eight inches long, has spines containing strong venom on its dorsal fin and gills.

The venom can cause excruciating pain, inflammation and swelling as well as localised paralysis and some victims have been known to be rendered unconscious. 

Several warnings have been issued at British coastal resorts in recent summers after a growing number of stings were reported in Plymouth, Cornwall and Kent.

Lottie Dawson, 13, was left screaming in agony as her foot swelled after stepping on a weever fish last August.

Mum Nikki told Lincolnshire Live she thought her daughter had cut herself before discovering the 1cm-long poisonous spine sticking out of her foot. 

Lottie’s toe turned black, her foot swelled to three times it’s usual size and the wound developed a pus-filled blister.

She was treated with antibiotics and antihistamines but was told the damage could last up to a year. 


While shark attacks are rare in Britain, they are not unheard of. 

Fisherman Max Berryman, 21, suffered deep bites “down to the bone” when he was savaged by a 7ft shark off Cornwall in 2018.

After being landed in a catch, the Porbeagle shark sunk its teeth deep into his right leg leaving a ten-inch wound in the worst shark attack in UK waters for more than 50 years.

“It had me in its jaws and could’ve had my privates off,” he told The Sun.

“There was blood everywhere. The shark had bitten straight through my oils, straight through my jeans and into my right leg. Its teeth had cut through everything.

“Blood was pouring down my leg and the pain was so intense. I was in absolute agony.”

He was airlifted to hospital and underwent surgery to save the leg.

Max’s was the worst injury since June 1968 when Roy Cloke suffered a severely lacerated arm when attacked by a blue shark at an unknown spot.

There has been one fatality, according to the Shark Attack database.

An assistant school master was savaged by a dogfish shark in 1922 while swimming near Hornsea, East Yorks.

Yew Trees

All parts of the yew tree are highly toxic, but autumn brings berries and falling needles, which are the most deadly.

The taxine alkaloids in the leaves and berries cause a shock to the heart, leading to cardiac arrest two to five hours after ingestion.

Other signs of yew poisoning are nausea, vomiting, impaired colour vision, abdominal pain or muscle spasms.

In a tragic case in 2013, Ben Hines, 31, died of yew tree poisoning in Norfolk after working in a pond surrounded by yew trees.

Although it is not known exactly how the poison got into his system the toxicology report indicated it was "highly unlikely" that poisoning could have resulted from anything other than oral ingestion.

Conger eels

Common around the western coast of the British Isles, conger eels put up a strong fight when caught by anglers and are a popular target as a result.

But don't get on the wrong side of one – in 2013, a diver was left with a gaping wound after a 2m eel took a chunk out of his face.

Jimmy Griffin, then 48, said it felt like a punch in the face and knocked his breath regulator from hismouth.

He told how the conger eel tried to drag him down to the seabed while he was scuba diving 25m deep off the coast of Connemara, Co Galway, but he managed to wrestle it off.

The nasty cut by his mouth required 20 stitches and painful plastic surgery.

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