It’s that time again! Watch Out for Black Widow Spiders

PHOTO: Pregnant Adult Female Black Widow (L. mactans) showing red hourglass shape on ventral side of abdomen. Captured in Knightdale, NC. Courtesy of Shenrich91

In addition to pumpkins, scarecrows and harvest baskets, one symbol that has become synonymous with autumn is spiders — black widows to be more precise.

In addition to being creepy, crawly and all around terrifying to many people, black widows have earned their place as a common Halloween decoration because the risk for seeing them in the fall is high for many individuals — especially people who spend considerable time outdoors.

The risks for this time of year are high because many individuals begin engaging in new types of outdoor activities during the outset of fall, such as moving wood and leaves or hunting — placing individuals in direct contact with the venomous spider.

The black widow is most commonly found under things like rocks or logs, or in dark outbuildings. It pays to be careful when moving objects that have been on the ground. The venom of the black widow is one of the most toxic to humans.

Bites can cause severe abdominal pain, muscular pain, and pain in the soles of the feet. The victim’s mouth alternates between being dry and having copious saliva. The victim might sweat profusely and their eyelids may swell.

According to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the initial sensation of being bit by a black widow is like a pin-prick when the fangs are first inserted. “This is usually followed by a burning sensation, local swelling and redness. The pain may become intense in one to three hours and can last for as long as 48 hours. The abdominal muscles may become rigid with severe cramps and the patient may become nauseous, depressed, tremorous, or be unable to sleep and experience speech defects. There may be a slight rise in body temperature…”

Despite their name including the word “widow”, black widow bites are rarely life threatening but can be very dangerous for small children or people with chronic health problems. They also can be dangerous for pets, and are sometimes fatal to small dogs or cats.

As individuals throughout the nation begin turning off the AC and firing up the wood stoves, it is important for people to exercise extreme caution as to not unwittingly disturb a resting black widow.

According to Bulwork Pest Control, venomous black widow spiders “are usually a 1/2 inch in length, with a shiny black body, long thin legs and large oval abdomen. Females typically exhibit a red ‘hourglass’ pattern on the underside of the abdomen, but this is not always the case.”

Should an individual find his or herself in the unfortunate position of having been bitten by the spider, the State of West Virginia’s Department of Agriculture advises, “Do not cut the skin at the site of the bite… Do no ‘first aid’ other than applying iodine or peroxide at the site of the bite.  Help the person bitten to remain calm and take them to a physician or hospital
at once.”

The doctor may administer antivenin and may use morphine to reduce the pain. Complete rest for a day or two plus the knowledge that fatalities are rare should see the patient completely recovered.

The venom is reputed to be 15 times as toxic as the venom of the prairie rattlesnake.
However, only a minute amount of spider venom is injected with a single bite, while a relatively large amount of venom is injected when the rattler bites.

Still — be especially careful when moving wood!

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