Black widow spider

639px-Western_Black_Widow_(Latrodectus_hesperus)

Profile

One of the most feared, deadliest, and most recognizable spiders in North America is the black widow spider. You probably already know at least a little bit about these infamous spiders. They are easily recognizable by the red hourglass. Unlike what some people think, the hourglass is actually on the creature’s abdomen and not on its back. The spider pictured above is a female, and males look completely different. The picture below shows a male, and the color and pattern make the male look like a different species than the female. Black widow spiders are part of a genus that includes 33 species. All of these species comprise the widow spiders. There are actually three different species of black widow spiders, but they all look about the same and live in North America.

794px-LatrodectusHesperusMaleLightColoredDorsal003A

 Size

Female black widow spiders are much larger than males, but they are still not extremely large. Females have a body length of about 0.4 inches (1 cm) while males are only 0.2 inches (half a centimeter) long. As you can see, females are twice as large as the males! These measurements are not including the legs. With the legs females can be 1.4 inches (3.5 cm), and males are about half an inch (1.25 cm). As most invertebrates are, black widow spiders are very light. They weigh one gram! This is about the weight of a paperclip!

Diet

You probably know that spiders spin webs and capture insects which they eat. Black widows are not picky, eating almost any invertebrate that gets trapped in their web. Spiders do not eat their prey whole, normally. Instead they inject digestive juices into their prey and then suck up the liquefied innards once the enzymes have done their work.

Venom

The black widow’s venom is what makes it the scariest spider in the United States. The venom produces aches, nausea, and difficulty in breathing in victims. Contrary to  popular belief, black widow spider bites are rarely fatal. Most of the deaths occur to children, elderly, or people who are already sick. In 2013, there were 1,866 black widow spider bites reported in the United States. only 14 of those (0.7%) resulted in “severe symptoms” and no deaths were reported! There have been no reported deaths since 2000! This is partly because an antivenin exists and partially because their bites in general are not deadly. Even before antivenin existed only about 5 percent of bites resulted in deaths. As with most animals, black widows only attack humans in self-defense. Only adult females are venomous, and males and juveniles are harmless.

I saw one!

If you see a black widow spider in or near your house, don’t panic. It won’t bite you if you don’t bother it first. Make sure kids and pets stay away from the spider as it probably won’t like curious fingers or paws. You can either squish the spider or spray it with some insect spray.* Make sure what you choose kills on contact and says specifically it kills black widow spiders. One thing worse than a black widow in your house is an angry black widow. Although I usually would recommend against killing animals, this dangerous animal is an exception.

Habitat and range

Black widows live throughout the Americas. Although the south-eastern United States is where they thrive the most, they can live in almost all of the United States, into Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean islands, and South America. Black widow spider webs are built close to, or under, the ground. In hollow tree stumps, in wood piles, in garage corners, and in outside water control holes (I’ve actually seen black widow spiders in the last two places) are all good habitats for these animals.

Status and threats

No major resource has classified the black widow spider under a certain status. There are also no known threats, probably because the black widow is more of a threat to other animals than other animals are to them. Humans are probably the main enemies of black widows. You can probably guess why this is so; You’d probably kill a black widow too (or want it dead) if it was in/near your house.

Mating, eggs, and young

Black widow spiders mate in between late spring and early fall. Contrary to popular belief, females do not always eat the males after mating. This practice has been observed almost solely in captivity. Yes, people actually keep black widow spiders in captivity, if only for research. The females, which are the only ones that spin webs, spin a light-colored, pear-shaped egg sack in which she lays up to 400 eggs. She guards the eggs closely for the four weeks they are in this sack. The hatchlings, which look more like the male than the females, release small strands of silk which allow them to be carried away by the wind. That’s right, watch out for flying black widows in the summer/fall. At least the young aren’t venomous. These creatures can live up to 3 years in the wild.

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is! (The picture is of the head of a fish, even if it doesn’t look like it)

Screenshot (5)

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Black widow spider – Bloomingdedalus
  • Male black widow – Davefoc
  • Mystery animal – Betty Wills

*Next Door Zoo is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

One Response

  1. Charis Dwire
    Charis Dwire at |

    I’m not sure what it is, but it looks rather grotesque!

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