Spiders Around Your Home II Black Widow

In my previous article Spiders Around Your Home: Brown Recluse, I mentioned there are 30 species of spiders are considered harmful to humans. But the Black Widow is the  

  

     The Black Widow, Lactrodectus mactans is the species found al over the United States and perhaps the most easily recognized of the Lactrodectus spiders.

     The Black Widow’s venom is a neurotoxin. Meaning it effects your nervous system.  Common symptoms are headaches, seizures, vomiting, muscle cramps and at its worse, paralysis. Being a powerful venom it’s also 15 times more toxic than a rattlesnake. However, bites from the Widow are not common. As with many venoms, children and elderly are more prone to side effects than anyone. When bitten, it can take more than an hour to notice pain from a bite. Often the signs are little and seem insignificant, as headaches are usually one of the first signs. A stabbing pain in the bite location  may also occur within hours. You may be thinking, “How do I know I was bitten, if I never saw the spider?”. In my last article, talking about the Brown Recluse, I mentioned it was a very hard bite to identify. However the Widow’s bite mark is quite easily identifiable once swelling sets in. It almost always has two little fang marks or “dot marks”, where the bite occurred. No, this does not mean they have huge fangs. In fact, majority of people who have been bitten by the Widow reported not ever feeling the bite at all. It simply is just the swelling of the tissue expanding the bite area, making the bite more visible.

Habitat

     The good news is these spiders are very easy to avoid, if you are being aware of your surroundings. They love dark moist environments. This is why many basements will be crawling with Black Widow’s. They also love wood piles, but not like the recluse. Brown Recluses like dry habitats. So while you may find a recluse is a pile of wood for your fireplace, you are more likely to find a Widow in fallen branches and wood piles out in the yard. These carry a lot of moisture and provide a dark comfortable living space for these little creatures. So always wear gloves when working in your yard. They build webs off the ground, and prefer to be in a corners. These spiders are known for their cobweb like webs. When you first glance at a Widow’s web, you may wonder how in the world if stays in tact, and you may also wonder how she makes her way through the web without getting entangled.

Powerful Webbing

     First of all, the web is said to be stronger than the strongest steel, from a size to strength ratio. So while it may look like a jumbled mess, it actually serves a purpose. When an animal or large insect comes into contact with the web, it doesn’t budge. Everything stays in place. It’s an amazing design the Widow family has developed. The silk they produce is very strong and many scientists are researching it to see what resources we could gain from it. When looking closely into a Widow’s web, you will also see hundreds of silky lines going in and out in every single direction. This gives her and her eggs the ultimate protection against predators and other hazards.

Identification

      The B.W spider is black and shiny. Her legs are pointed at the ends supported by microscopic hairs that help her sense prey and aid her when weaving through her web. She is graceful and truly fast. Don’t let her reclusiveness and jumbled web fool you. She can be at one end of her web and in a split second especially to defend her home and her eggs. The females reach up to 9 mm, with the underside of their abdomen (second  section of their body) showcasing a large red hour-glass shape as seen in the picture. In the animal world bright colors such as reds and yellows spell out danger and toxin. As you can imagine, they have few predators. So while she lays in her web, she hangs right side up, presenting the hourglass for everyone to see. Interestingly the male widow looks nothing like the female. He is typically brown in coloration and very tiny. About 1 mm. He is completely harmless so no need to be frightened, his sole purpose is to mate.

Mating

     The Black Widow is known as the widow because she eats her male “companion”. In order to produce offspring she needs to mate with a male. Watching widows mate is an interesting site. The male usually seeks the female. His only purpose in life is to mate and create offspring, hopefully living afterwards. He must be smart and sneaky to stay safe. When entering the web, he must make it clear he is not prey. In other words, let her know he wants to mate. He will showcase this in the way he climbs in her web and approaches her. He soon reaches her and must position himself to to mate. Sadly for him, this means putting his abdomen (extremely vulnerable area holding all the vital organs), directly under her fangs. At any moment she can bite down on him, so he must be quick and efficient. Once he has mated he may leave, however the female usually makes the decision to eat him before he can escape.

She will lay around 10 egg sacs in one season, carrying hundreds of babies in each. After about 25-30 days they will hatch out. Until the baby has become a mature female, they do not have any potent venom.

If bitten:

  • If you know you were bitten, then put a hot pack or hot water on the bite, this will slow and break down the venom
  • You can seek medical attention but anti-venom will rarely be given, as it is more dangerous than the actual widow bite. They usually will help you with the pain and symptoms.
  • Do not kill spider, if you know it bit you. Rather safely catch and it take it with you to the doctor so you can identify it correctly.

This is a beautiful species. There are a few other species of Widow spiders throughout the world. Most of which are in the United States. Remember, although highly toxic, these spiders will leave you completely alone unless you come into contact with their web. They are quite gentle spider if not threatened.  So feel free to sit next to their web and observe them. You may walk away with a completely different view of this graceful species.

Ciara

Wildlife-N-Critters

“Teaching conservation of our wildlife and all its wonderful critters.”

Spiders Around Your Home-Brown Recluse

Arachnophobia. It is argued to be the highest ranking phobia in the world. This is the fear of spiders. For many people talking about spiders, or even seeing a picture of a spider can be enough to send them into a panic attack, let alone discomfort.

It isn’t any wonder why, as there are 35,000 known species of spiders and many left to be discovered. For many people this is a frightening thought. However, around only 30 of those species carry a venom truly harmful to humans. And luckily for you, most of them are in other countries. So first of all what is a Spider?

Spiders are part of the class Arachnida. This means they have 2 body segments, 4 pairs of legs( 8 legs), and no antennae. Spiders lay egg sacs, which carry millions of tiny baby spiders, also called spiderlings.  They come in all sizes. From a tiny dot to the diameter of a dinner plate. While they seem scary, they are extremely diverse, intelligent, and graceful. One could only be so lucky to observe a spider in the wild.

Here in Oklahoma, there are only two species of spider that are medically important, which is true for most of the United States as well. The one that is most spoken about and possibly the most misidentified is the Brown Recluse ( Loxosceles reclusa) also called fiddleback or violin spider. This spider carries a venom that is typically only potent to people with weak immune systems. It is a necrotic venom effecting the tissues. Areas with more tissue are more prone to necrosis than other areas. Just like its name suggests, it is very reclusive. Often  found roaming along a wall, or in clothes that have been left on the floor.

A bite from a recluse is  thought to be uncommon. Its venom has the ability to eat away tissue and if left untreated, cause internal complications. Children and the elderly are more sensitive to the venom. However more often than not, a “bite” is actually a sore or  insect bite, that has become infected, which can quickly turn into staph infection. Staph is very common, easy to contract , and has similar effects of necrosis. A  mild recluse bite can be treated with an antihistamine. Just like staph the recluse bite wound will fester.  This makes for a confusing diagnosis. Observance of suspected bite area is important in case you need medical attention. Since these spiders are so reclusive, they will do their best to stay out of your sight. Therefore, your chances of getting bitten, like I said, uncommon.

What to do if bitten by a recluse:

  • Identify the spider! If you can, take a picture or CAREFULLY catch it in a cup. And no, a smashed spider does not make for an easy identification.
  • Do NOT wash wound with hot water. Usually hot water will break down the venom in your system. However, in the recluse this only seems to speed the venom to a rapid rate. Use cold water or better yet, don’t touch the bite at all. See a medical professional soon.
  • Just because you are bitten does not mean you need any medical attention. The best patient is one who knows their body. Watch your bite. If you see in color changes( turning to purple or black), then see a medical professional. If you are for certain you were bitten by a spider, try to put an antihistamine lotion on your bite or take Benadryl.
  • And most of all, remember if you did not see the spider bite you or feel it when it happened, then do not assume it was a bite at all.

 

Identification of the spider can also be confusing.The recluse spider comes in many colorations from light tan to dark brown. They can be one or two toned. They also have a violin shape on the first section of their body(Cephlathorax). However, this shape is often lacking in various species/colorations so it is best not to rely on the violin symbol for a secure identification tool. They can reach the diameter of a half-dollar, but can also be very small. They prefer to be in dark areas. Their favorite habitat would be leaf litter in a yard ,in a slightly damp wooded area. During breeding time, males will often be found roaming around in search of females and food. Typically if you find a recluse spider, you can leave it alone and it will go on its way. If possible try to find a container that keeps your hand out of the reach of the spider, and try to take it outside in a tree. Contrary to belief, spiders are actually great for our ecosystem, so always try to save them if you are able to.

The recluse is an interesting species because it exhibits a bit of the “opossum attitude”. That’s right, these little creatures have mastered the art of playing dead. You can poke and prod at them, as long as you are in their sight, they won’t budge. Their eyes are on the top of their heads(cephlathorax) so they can only see what is above them. It’s when you sit at their level that they suddenly “come to life” again. Another reason as why you should never pick up a spider if you do not know what it is.

Recluses have been documented on many occasions to living over 5 years and going without food for many months up to a year at some points. They have egg sacs which are white in coloration. Soft and hold an estimated 40 eggs each.  Like all other spiders they mature gradually molting( shedding skin) numerous times.

Check out this website with great information on Brown Recluses:

http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7468.html

See further articles about other species of spiders commonly found around your home. Any questions of suggestions? Leave me a comment or email me and I’ll be happy to answer all your spider questions.

-Ciara

*In Native American teachings the spider is the weaver of the secret language. She weaves her web constantly to conserve and pass on the language to each generation so they never forget their true teachings.