The Black Widow
by Nikki Fox
The other notorious spider is laid bare for you below...
What does it look like?
The female black widow spider (Latrodectus spp.) is a poisonous spider that has a somewhat round, shiny black abdomen with red markings that resemble an hourglass on the underside. The size of the body is approximately 1/2 inch wide and 1 1/2 to 1 3/8 inches long. Despite common opinion, the female rarely kills the male after mating.
Where does it live?
Five different species of the black widow spider are prevalent in North America. They generally live under rocks and under fallen trees outside the home. In and around the house they are often found in firewood piles, basements and crawlspaces. They are also found in secluded places, such as garages and sheds. They feed on insects and other spiders that are trapped in their web.
The widow’s web is an irregular mass of fibers with a small central area to which the spider retreats while waiting until its prey becomes ensnared. These webs are frequently constructed underneath boards, stones, or the seats of outdoor privies. They are also found along foundation slabs, behind shrubs and especially where brick or wood siding extends close to ground level. This spider does not usually enter residences.
What makes it bite?
The black widow is not usually aggressive, but if handled or accidentally touched, it may bite as a means of protecting itself.
How dangerous is it?
Widow spider venom contains toxins that are neurotoxic (affects the nervous system). The black widow’s venom is a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system and may cause pain and serious illness in humans. Though the bite is not often felt, pain will develop immediately. The severity of a person’s reaction to the bite depends on the area of the body where the bite occurs; the person’s size and general sensitivity; the amount of venom injected; depth of bite; seasonal changes (in venom potency); and temperature. The bite produces a sharp pain similar to a needle puncture. The pain usually disappears rapidly. Local muscular cramps are felt 15 minutes to several hours after the bite, spreading and becoming more severe as time passes. The venom then grows weak, tremors develop, and the abdominal muscles show a board-like rigidity. Respiration becomes spasmodic and the patient is restless and anxious. During this period, a feeble pulse, cold skin, labored breathing and speech, light stupor, and delirium may be noted. Convulsions and death may result with some victims, especially if the person is sensitive to the venom and no treatment is received. An anti-venom specific for the black or brown widow is readily available to most physicians. Antitoxin is available to combat the neurotoxin. If bitten, call a physician or go to an emergency room immediately. If possible, exterminate the spider and take it along for identification purposes. Bites are rarely fatal when promptly treated, however, small children are at greater risk.
What can we do to protect ourselves?
To avoid getting bitten by the black widow, wear leather gloves when working around potential habitats. Use caution around spider webs in basements and crawlspaces. If a black widow spider is encountered, contact a pest control professional. And if you get bitten, go to a doctor immediately, and try and catch the spider and take it with you for identification of the venom.