Black Widow: A scary story

The Standard Journal - - LIFESTYLE - By Ricky Ens­ley Polk County Ex­ten­sion Co­or­di­na­tor

It can be scary when you hap­pen to en­counter one of the two spi­ders found in Ge­or­gia that are con­sid­ered haz­ardous to man. The black widow spi­der, La­trodec­tus mac­tans, can be dan­ger­ous.

The black widow fe­males are a glossy jet black color. They have glob­u­lar ab­domens that have a brightred hour­glass shaped mark­ing un­der­neath. The males are less fleshy and are light in color.

Male black wid­ows do not bite, but the fe­males will bite when their web is dis­turbed. Black widow spi­ders pro­duce venom that some sources claim to be 15 times more po­tent than rat­tlesnake venom. They have tiny mouth parts and in­ject a very small dose. The ini­tial bite may not be no­ticed by the vic­tim. The bite is nor­mally fol­lowed by se­vere pain. The pain of­ten spreads to the ab­domen and is ac­com­pa­nied by chills, vom­it­ing, ab­dom­i­nal cramps and per­spi­ra­tion. For­tu­nately, the bite is sel­dom fa­tal. Vic­tims of­ten re­cover within a few days. Tis­sue does not slough off around black widow bites like it will with brown recluse bites.

Black wid­ows feeds on in­sects, bee­tles, cock­roaches, and other food items be­come trapped in the fe­male’s web. She bites them which im­mo­bi­lizes them be­fore she eats them. Black wid­ows are most of­ten found in out­door rub­bish. Beware when han­dling old stacks of fire­wood, rock piles, and stacks of build­ing ma­te­ri­als.

Con­trol black widow spi­ders by elim­i­nat­ing clut­ter, rub­bish, and other at­trac­tive web build­ing sites. Many house­hold in­sec­ti­cide prod­ucts will kill black widow spi­ders. Wear gloves for pro­tec­tion when work­ing in ar­eas that are at­trac­tive to black wid­ows. Make it a habit to al­ways look be­fore reach­ing un­der stones and out­door de­bris.

If bit­ten by a black widow, re­main calm and seek im­me­di­ate med­i­cal at­ten­tion. Ex­perts rec­om­mend putting an ice pack on the site of the bite. If pos­si­ble, you may want to col­lect the spi­der for pos­i­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Be cau­tious when work­ing around en­vi­ron­ments that are at­trac­tive to black widow spi­ders. Do not give the black widow a chance to give you a scary bite!

Ricky Ens­ley

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