Teacher builds collection of 1,000 spiders following tragic death of his wife

A teacher lives with more than 1,000 spiders after the tragic loss of his wife.

Ian Wileman, 53, said that his huge collection helped pick him up after losing his “beautiful” primary school teacher wife, Michelle.

He was forced to make the heart-breaking decision to end life support for his “best friend” Michelle, 37.

Michelle died after a combination of the influenza virus and scarlet fever led to her contracting sepsis in March, 2016.

Ian has collected spiders since he was 15, but found himself struggling to look after them following the tragedy.

Ian told the Liverpool Echo : “When I was really not good, shortly after Michelle died, I actually went in the room and found a couple of them had died because I’d forgot to water them.

“I was really gutted, because obviously I wasn’t in a great place, and then losing a couple of animals because I hadn’t gone in and watered them properly, I just felt really guilty.

“I was in a situation where I thought, ‘I’ve got to move them on’.”

Five months later, he drove his son Billy to the pet shop so they could match their male with someone else’s female for breeding.

But Billy realised this meant the end of their spider collection

Ian said: “On the way home, Bill was – at the time, he was eight or nine – and he was really upset that there were going to be no more spiders.

“So I said, ‘Oh, we’ll get a couple more’.”

The eight-legged friends have been a “huge part” of Ian’s life for decades and without them, he may never have met his wife.

In his early 20s, Ian was an iconic “animal man” who visited schools with spiders and the other animals he had at the time, taking his collection as far as Halifax, West Yorkshire.

A visit to a primary school in Speke, near Liverpool also planted the thought of going into teaching.

“The teachers there just kept saying, ‘You’ve got an aptitude with these kids. The kids love you.

“Wouldn’t you think about doing it full time?”

Ian met Michelle in 2002 while they were both training to be teachers at university.

On their first date, he jokingly told Michelle he would marry her.

He said: “She was a beautiful, lovely, caring woman. She was everything to me, we were best friends.”

When she died in March 2016, Ian promised Michelle that he would raise their then-eight-year-old son Billy to be a man with good morals and ethics.

“We spent quite a long time on our knees. Life was pretty dire for quite a long time.

“But these animals kind of give you something else, you know, you’ve got 1,000 lives in that room that need you to keep them alive.”

He added: “It’s a big part of my life. I don’t know what I’d do if I’d never had them.”

Ian also shares his hobby with his son Billy.

Around 100 spiders in his collection of 1,000 across belong to Billy, who bought them with his own pocket money.

Ian said: “He’s really, really keen on it.

“It’s a big part of his life now as well, which shows in the fact that he’s buying his own and growing his own. I don’t go near it.

“The spiders he’s bought out of his pocket money are his. I have nothing to do with them.

“He looks after them. He feeds them. He waters them. He pots them on when they need potting on.

“It’s down to him to do that.”

They keep their collection in a room heated between 24 and 26 degrees celsius.

Both spend hours watching them and looking out for signs that they need feeding, or are shedding their skin, or are ready for breeding.

He said: “They all have absolutely incredible markings on them.

“It’s like keeping little works of art.

“They are absolutely amazing things.”

He finds it infuriating spiders are portrayed as scary creatures when they are “amazing and beautiful” and worthy of protection.

“The worst species of spider out there that you’re allowed to keep, I’ve got 100 of them in this house,” he said.

“And they’ve got medically significant venom, so if they bit you, it’s going to hurt, you’re going to be in pain.

“Nobody has ever, in the whole history of mankind, been killed by a tarantula bite.”

Ian added: “There’s no reason for anyone to say negative things about them. There are enough people scared of them.”

Work and his son aside, Ian spends the “vast majority” of his time with his pets and finds solace in that room in his house.

He said: “A thousand animals take quite a significant chunk of your life to look after.

“But it’s not a chore, and it never is a chore, because it’s fascinating to be with them.

“They’re amazing things. They’re incredible.”