Black Widow Bites: Symptoms And Treatment

The males black widow spiders do not bite. But female black widows do when their webs are disturbed by people. This usually happens when people are moving items or debris and unknowingly disturb the spider. Areas like sheds, utility boxes and other often undisturbed areas are prime habit for these spiders, so people need to be alert when reaching into these types of areas.

Black Widow Bite Symptoms

Any person who is bitten by a black widow will only feel a pin prick at first. The pain sets in a few minutes later. The pain spreads with varying speeds to arms, legs, chest, abdomen and back, depending on how much venom was injected and the persons natural reaction to the venom. As time goes by the human bitten by a black widow might experience chills, vomiting, violent abdominal cramps, perspiration, delirium, and/or partial paralysis. Any or all of these symptoms may appear within a few hours after the bite.

Black Widow Bite Treatment

Mild symptoms at first may lead to unwarranted complacency, so the bite victim needs to be careful of that. For severe bites professional medical attention should be sought. In mild cases a hot or cold compress can help ease the swelling, and over the counter pain relievers can help with the pain.

Black Widow Venom Effects

Black widow venom is 15 times more poisonous than that of a prairie rattle snake. Of course, a spider will inject much less venom than a snake.  Most black widow spider bites are non-fatal.

Black widow venom contains a number of neurotoxin proteins that have effects on insects. Only alpha-latrotoxin is specific for vertebrates. This compound binds to high-affinity receptors in nerve terminals and causes massive stimulation of neurotransmitter releases. Hence, this material will cause multiple responses in organs and muscles throughout the body. It takes some time for the alpha-latrotoxin in the venom to circulate in the blood steam and make its way to those specific nerve receptors. That is why the effects of a black widow bite may seem trivial at first and then keep on increasing in severity.

Black Widow Spider Pictures

The while it isn’t aggressive, the black widow spider still makes people uneasy.  It’s powerful venom is enough to give most people pause.

The following are pictures of the black widow spider.  They show the distinct black body shape and the red hourglass shape on the bottom of the spider.  These black widow spider pictures include male and female spiders and should help you identify them correctly.

Click on any of the pictures below to get a larger view.

Pictures of the Female Black Widow Spider

The female black widow spiders cary the distinctly black body with the red markings underneath.  Note: coloration and markings vary slightly by region.  The black widow images below are for the North American spider.

female-black-widow-top female-black-widow-bottom black-widow-bottom-hourglass black-widow-spider

Pictures of the Male Black Widow Spider

As the images below show, the male black widow spider tends to be lighter colored and smaller then the female.

Male Black Widow Male Black Widow (underside) Light Colored Male Black Widow

The Fearsome Black Widow Spider

Few spiders have a well deserved notoriety to match the black widow. Everyone knows that the female will get her eggs fertilized and then eat the male, thus becoming a widow. While this may happen to most such spider couples, it is not necessarily the universal rule. Ever so many stories and movies have been inspired by this model of behavior.

The black widow’s shiny black body is very distinct, which makes them very easy to identify.  A mature female may be an inch and a half in length, including moderate length legs. Both males and females have shiny black bodies with a relatively big black abdomen. Only that female spiders abdomen will have the distinctive red hourglass-shaped spot. If you ever see a male, you will notice it is smaller and it might be lighter in color and have a red or pale brown stripe in the abdomen.

Black Widow Spider
Black Widow Spider

Black widows are definitely web spiders. The silk glands located at the back of the abdomen provide for prolific web building. Oil on the legs of the black widows make it possible for them to hike around on the web without getting entangled themselves.   They build webs to capture insects that might be flying or crawling by. Their poison will kill the captured meal. The typical procedure of excreting digestive fluids to dissolve the prey bit-by-bit and then taking in the partially digested food follows the capture.

A young adult black widow will go through a winter in out buildings, cellars, or other sheltered places. It will have been hatched from an egg ball of 100 to 400 eggs. It might have eaten several brothers or sisters in order stay alive. Remember the doctrine of survival of the fittest. It is a strong belief among black widow spiders. Females can live for five years and produce eggs each year after the first.

In the late spring of each season the surviving spiders will pair off and conduct a protracted courtship activity prior to mating. A mature male will spin a sperm web and deposit sperm in it. He then will load some of the sperm on his antennae and deposit them into the female. When mating is completed the female eats the male and starts laying eggs.

The female deposits her fertilized eggs into a globular silken container in which they remain camouflaged and guarded. She might construct 5 to 15 of the egg balls during a season. All the time she has to be tending her web and capturing prey to support the massive egg production that has to take place in the summer.

It may take 20 to 30 days before the eggs hatch. Maturation may take four to six months. The newly hatched spiders each strive to grow enough to survive the coming winter. As they do this they might eat or be eaten by a close relative or by some other spider.

Black Widow Habitat

Black widows can be found in most of the Western Hemisphere. Three groups of black widows in the United States, northern, southern, and western have some minor distinctions. The southern, by far the most numerous, thrives in the warmer climates and is most often encountered.

Black Widow Spider Bite and Venom

Our other article has more information about black widow spider bites and treatment.