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Their very name often creates fear in people. The black widow spider has a reputation for being deadly, dangerous and poisonous. All of those things are correct to some degree, but like most things, some of the bad reputation comes from legend and are not necessarily true.
Of course, the last thing you want is a bunch of black widows around your house so your pet or child can stumble into them, but the fear that they instill is mostly due to lack of knowledge.
As always, the more you actually know about something, the better you can deal with them.
This is a classy breed of spiders. While black or brown, they have red patterns and markings. Females have two reddish triangular markings on their undersides that resemble an hourglass or sometimes only a single triangle. There are usually red markings above the spinnerets. Males usually have a colored pattern on top, and a row of red spots along with white lines or bars extending to the sides. As for spiderlings, they are usually orange or white, with markings on top, as well as one or two reddish ones beneath.
The black widow is actually a name given to a wide range of spiders located across the globe, and all of whom are part of the genus of spider known as Latrodectus which are in the larger family of Theridiidae. There are actually 32 species known as widows all over the planet.
Black widows are relatively small, measuring between three to 10mm in length, with the females much larger than the males.
They are predators and their venom is potent. Reportedly the poison of a North American black widow is 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake and can cause paralysis of the lungs in extreme cases.
Black widow spiders are very shy and non-aggressive. They only attack in defense, when their webs are disturbed or when they are handled. They weave very disorganized webs in hidden places, much like the Brown Recluse spider. Widows try to avoid people and animals and don’t even like other spiders much unless it’s mating season.
Most people will say that a black widow is a shiny black with a red hour-glass shape on their abdomen, but that is not always the case. Although they are likely to have red markings on their abdomen, it is not always in the hourglass shape. Sometimes they can be triangles or other shapes.
Widows got their name from their habit of mating with the much smaller, harmless, male widows and then devouring them. Spider cannibalism is common, and this does happen, but again not always. Male widow spiders have been seen seeking mates that have recently eaten, seeking webs with the carcasses of insects they have eaten.
On occasion, black widows can be found inside homes, but they generally prefer the outdoors. They prefer undisturbed locations, so unless they are seeking warmth or are accidentally brought inside on firewood, they’ll likely stay outside. Black widows build their nests in crevices, by doors and vents, or in other places that might also be attractive to other insects. Easy access to a meal is key.
The spiders are nocturnal and hide in their nests during the day. At night, black widows will prowl their webs, looking for food. They also like to hang upside down in their webs while waiting for prey.
Black widow eggs are contained inside of a small sac. Each sac, with a diameter of only about 1 centimeter, can contain anywhere from 200 to 250 eggs and will hatch in approximately 2 weeks. The eggs hatch within the sac, and the “spiderlings” remain there until after their first molt. Female black widows may produce up to 20 sacs in their lifetime, of which they are very protective. When tending to their egg sacs, they may be more likely to bite in defense of their offspring.
Black Widows do not go hunting for humans. They prefer to eat other insects and their babies are even known to devour each other for nutrients. Only the strongest survive to leave the black widow web and nest and move on.
Humans are generally bitten when they run into the webs or trying handling the spider. Children, the elderly, and those with health concerns are more likely to respond negatively to the bites. For most of us, the bites are not dangerous but can be painful.
The truth is that the widow is much, much smaller than a human. Although they have poison-filled fangs, the amount that they can deliver to a human is very small. For most people, the venom may cause discomfort, and medical attention is recommended, but they will recover just fine. The average black widow just cannot inject enough venom to bring down a normal healthy human being.
As the only spider in the United States that carries a neurotoxic venom, black widows deliver an uncomfortable bite. You may or may not feel the pinprick sensation of the bite, but a halo-like mark will soon appear at the site, possibly with a set of two fang marks in the center. Within 1-2 hours, black widow bite symptoms will begin. Cramping at the site of the bite and moving outward to the stomach, chest, and back may be accompanied by a headache, nausea, dizziness, and sweating. In more grave cases, cardiac symptoms and localized paralysis or weakness may occur. The severity of the symptoms varies depending on a number of factors including but not limited to the condition of the bite victim, how many bites there are, and how much venom was injected.
In California and places out west, you are more likely to see the North American Black Widow spider. They are located all across the country from the humid areas of Florida to the Midwest and all the way up to Northwestern states. They have even been found in Canada.
There are southern black widows, too. They look similar to the North American version and are black with red markings on the abdomen. They are generally found in the more hot and humid southern states.
Two spiders that are commonly confused with black widows are the false black widow and the brown widow.
During the warm summer months, it is possible that black widows will get more active. This is the time of year that the widows look to mate and lay their egg sacs. So, if you notice them more around your home, avoid those areas just to be safe.
More to the point, if you worry about getting bitten by black widows, call in the experts who know how to handle them and that can help make sure that they don’t come back.
Don’t be terrified of the black widow, but avoid them when you can because who really likes being bitten by a spider anyway?
If you find black widows, or any other spiders, around your home and want them removed, then be sure to contact the spider control and spider removal experts at Western Exterminator.
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