Black Widow Spiders

Female black widow spiders use its venom to paralyze its prey.


There are about six species of the black widow spider – all of which are poisonous. The female black widow spider (the most deadly of the two genders) is shiny and black, with a reddish hourglass shape on the bottom of her spherically shaped abdomen. The female’s body is about two and a half centimetres long (including her legs). The male is about half her size and at times appears with a pair of reddish stripes on the sides of his abdomen.

Where to find them:

They make their homes everywhere from deserts to trash cans and attics – generally spinning their webs in warm, dark places. Black widows are found throughout most of the Western Hemisphere. Species such as Latrodectus hesperus are common in the western U.S. and the Latrodectus mactans species is common in eastern and central American states.

The attack:

Although nobody in the U.S. has died from a black widow spider bite in 10 years, it can be a painful experience if the female decides to attack. The more timid male black widow spider does not bite humans as the female reigns as the more aggressive of the two. Death is most likely to occur from a black widow spider bite if medical attention is unavailable.

A female black widow spider’s bite looks almost like a target, with a lighter area surrounded by a red circle. Although her venom is 15 times more potent than an equal amount of rattlesnake venom, her 1.7-millimetre fangs inject only a tiny amount of the liquid.

Within the first two hours of being bitten, severe cramps and muscle pain may develop in the abdomen. Other possible symptoms include weakness, vomiting, sweating and increased blood pressure. If the spider chooses not to inject any venom into its victim then no serious symptoms will develop.

When the black widow attacks other insects she is much more merciless. After ensnaring her prey in the web, the arachnid makes small punctures in its victim’s body. As the venom enters the prey’s system it becomes paralyzed, left helpless as the black widow sucks out the liquid contents from its lifeless victim. In addition to venom, the spider injects digestive juices into the prey that decomposes the flesh, allowing it to easily consume its victim.

Life span:

The male black widow is obviously the less fortunate in the male-female relationship. In reference to the arachnid’s name, the male spider usually becomes a tasty meal for the larger female promptly after mating. On average, the female black widow may live for about a year and a half.

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