Black Widows: Dangerous, But Rarely Deadly

Perhaps nothing in the world of insects and arachnids is as maligned by a mythic – and unearned – reputation for malevolence than the black widow spider. Here are just a few false notions about the shiny black eight-legged creatures.
• Myth: Female black widow spiders always eat the male after mating. Reality: While this occasionally happens, it is rare, and it’s often as much the fault of the male as the female. The act of reproduction effectively neuters male black widows, so there is no instinctive need for the male to go anywhere after mating. Since cannibalism is rampant among all spider species, if a male stays in the immediate area of the female’s web for an extended period of time, there’s a decent chance it will be eaten.
• Myth: This spider’s venom is ounce-for-ounce the deadliest toxin known to man. Reality: It’s no doubt that the bites can be dangerous, but only females of the species have the anatomy capable of injecting harmful amounts of venom, and even then it’s rarely deadly. In fact, human Will Sevin Dust Kill Thrips mortality from black widow bites is well less than one percent, and hospitalization is rarely even required. What’s even less well known is the fact that all spiders are venomous, but, due to their small size, they are unable to hurt anything larger than an insect in most cases.
• Myth: They are aggressive spiders that will attack even when unprovoked. Reality: They build their webs in hard-to-reach spaces in cluttered areas and under rocks, fallen tree limbs and stumps. They are poor runners and climbers who almost never leave their webs, and it’s only when their webs are disturbed that they bite. Even though the facts demonstrate that this spider isn’t exactly Garden Pest Beginning With A a menace, they do pose a threat to people who aren’t familiar with preventing bug bites in general and are unaware of the spiders’ markings and preferred habitat. And, worse, the hotter-than-average summer that has plagued most of North America has resulted in higher populations of black widow and other spiders, which has resulted in a spike in reports of bites over recent months.
Looks and locations: The features and markings of a black widow spider are practically iconic. The shiny black color, broken up by a bright red hourglass shape on the underside, is characteristic of the female black widow, which is usually between a half-inch and an inch long. The male spider is about half the size of a female and often has red dots on the top of the abdomen instead of the red hourglass underneath.
They live mostly outdoors, under piles of wood, rubble and other debris. They can also be found in hollow stumps, under rocks, and under the eaves and in the corners of sheds and garages. They may be found, less frequently, indoors in places like basements and crawl spaces that house boxes and other clutter that go undisturbed for long periods.
Bite symptoms and treatment: The bite from a black widow is usually marked by an initial stinging pain, although some victims report no discomfort. Usually within 10 minutes, however, intense pain and muscle cramping begins at the site of the bite and progresses to the abdomen and lower back. Other likely symptoms include nausea, tremors, and an increase in sweating, breath rate and blood pressure.
Clean the bite with soap and water and apply ice to the area as quickly as possible. If possible, raise the affected area above the head, and then seek medical attention.
Prevention: When working outside among thick vegetation and clutter, wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, gloves and boots. Common insect repellents, especially those containing DEET, are usually effective against black widow spiders.
For more details about eliminating black widows and other dangerous pests, contact a trusted pest management professional or your local county extension office.