What has 8 legs and scares the crap out of me every Spring, Summer and Fall? The beautiful and venomous Black Widow Spider, that's what! If you live in just about any warm climate, you have probably come in contact with some form of widow spiders. Widows are found on every continent except Antartica. I personally find dozens of the Western Black Widow in and around my house every Spring, Summer, and Fall. The little boogers especially like hiding under the kids toys in the yard.
I have a love / hate relationship with these fantastic creatures. I am mesmerized by the Black Widow's sinister beauty and scared to death that they are going to bite one of my kids. My best friend's brother was bitten by one as a child so the concern is not totally unjustified. Anyway, this year I thought it would be fun to get to know my enemy a little better. Here is my top 15 most interesting facts about the Black Widow Spider.
1. That shiny black spider, with the really round tummy, and the hourglass on her belly is a female. She is typically about 1.5 inches long. The male Black Widow spiders don't look anything like the females. In fact, the males are often gray or brown and are 1/4 the size of the females.
2. Not all Black Widow Spiders have the red hourglass on their underbelly. Some have no markings while others have red spots.
3. Female black widow spiders can live for more than a year and half. The poor little male only lives for 3 to 4 months.
4. The Black Widow produces a protein venom. The venom will affect the nervous system of the person bitten. It causes acute pain at the bite site. Those bitten might also get severe muscle cramps, tremors, weakness, nauseau, vomitting, dizziness, fainting, abdominal pain, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. The venom might also cause your blood pressure and heart rate to increase. Some say drugs don't seem to really help ease those symptoms while others suggest muscle relaxants might help.
5. There is a Black Widow antivenom available. Not every hospital carries it and if they do you may want to think twice about receiving the antivenom. The antivenom is typically made from horse based serum which runs the risk of producing a severe allergic reaction.
6. The Black Widow's venom is said to be 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake. Lucky for us they only administer a small amount of venom when they bite.
7. The Black Widow spider is pretty shy. You don't typically find her inside of houses. Although cold and drought will drive them inside. Black Widows tend to like to stay in the garage or areas around the house that provide nice dark crevices for her to hide. This includes piles of wood, under toys and play structures.
8. The Black Widow is nocturnal.
9. Very few people actually die from a Black Widow spider bite. It is estimated to be less than 1%. Those most at risk of suffering the ill effects of a bite are small children and the elderly.
10. The Black Widow spiderlings (baby spiders) all tend to look like the male. The females start to get darker and larger with every molt.
11. Female Black Widow Spiders don't typically eat the males. Sometimes they do kill their mate, but it's actually not typical behavior.
12. Black Widows are pretty good garden creatures. They eat flies, mosquitos, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles.
13. Black Widow spiders aren't considered an aggressive spider. They tend to flee danger. They typically only bite when they are provoked or because they mistake a person for something tastier like an insect. For example, the spider will bite when they are pinched or sat on. They also might rush out and bite a finger that touches its web, because they think they caught an insect. Those most at risk of getting bitten are the male black widow and an insect, not a human.
14. Their webs look eratic. They lack real shape or form. They also feel super sticky and kind of rough.
15. Black Widows, and other spiders, don't like Eucalyptus or chestnuts. Apparently, they flee from the smell of both. Eucalyptus leaves and oil and chestnuts are often recommended as a natural deterrent.
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latrodectus, http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74149.html ; http://factoidz.com/how-to-get-rid-of-black-widow-spiders; http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/black-widow-spider
Photo: Western Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus)