What is a Black Widow Spider?
Black widow spiders favor dark, secluded areas such as crevices and woodpiles. They thrive primarily in temperate zones and are known to be abundant in the American South.
Several species of Latrodectus or “widow” spiders are present in North America. The most common are: the southern widow (Latrodectus mactans) found in the American South and Northeast; Latrodectus hesperus found in the west; the brown widow (Latrodectus geometricus) found in the South; and the northern widow (Latrodectus variolus) found in the Northeast.
Black widows produce messy, irregular webs. Webs usually are located near ground level and under a protected ledge such as under lawn furniture or wood piles. The female with the iconic red hourglass marking also indicates their presence.
What do Black Widow Spiders look like?
Black widows are identified by red hourglass marking on the underside of their abdomens. Black widows are shiny black in color. Females are larger than males and can measure 13 mm in body length. These spiders are members of the genus Latrodectus.
Most black widow spiders’ bodies are 3 to 10 mm in size. They live an average of one year, although some species may survive for up to three years. These spiders live longest in captivity. Black widows are the largest of web-spinning spiders.
Are Black Widow Spiders dangerous?
Female black widow spiders can attack humans when they are provoked. The venom of the black widow spider is comprised of neurotoxins that affect the nervous system.
The initial bite of the black widow is only like a pinprick. However, within a few hours, extreme pain, cramping and nausea commonly occur. Pain and cramping can spread rapidly to the arms, legs, chest, back and abdomen. Swelling is often experienced in the extremities. In severe cases, victims may experience delirium. Other general symptoms include restlessness, panic attacks, heavy breathing, difficultly speaking and profuse sweating. Symptoms may diminish within two to three days. However, some symptoms may continue for much longer after recovery.
Harm inflicted by the black widow spider is unlikely fatal. The young, elderly and those with high blood pressure are particularly susceptible though. Most people recover with medical treatment which can include antivenin injections.
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