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.