How Deadly Are Black Widow Spiders?
Do the words "black widow" send chills down your spine? The black widow spider lives up to its reputation as one of the most dangerous spiders to humans. It is also the most venomous spider in North America. A bite can be painful and debilitating, and often causes pain in your chest or abdomen. Other possible symptoms of black widow envenomation include:
- Painful, cramping muscles
- Nausea and vomiting
- Light sensitivity
- Heavy sweating and salivating
If you have many of these symptoms, you are suffering from what scientists call latrodectism, the illness caused by black widows and related spiders.
What Do Black Widows Look Like?
Mature black widow females have shiny, black bodies. Their telltale features are bright red hourglass marks on their abdomens (not on their backs as some believe). You can often spot this mark at night, as the female typically hangs upside down from her web after dark. Black widows look very different if they are male or immature, with white and brown bodies. But these varieties pose no threat to humans.
How Aggressive Are Black Widows?
Black widows prefer not to bite if they don't have to. Scientists poked and prodded these spiders to see what their defensive reactions would be. They found that black widows try to avoid confrontation when they are merely poked once. If they are poked several times these creepy crawlies may bite, but they can choose how much venom they use and prefer to spare it when they can. More than half the time a black widow bite is "dry," meaning no venom is used. The most likely way to experience a serious dose of venom is by squeezing the spider. This provoked the most violent reactions in the study.
So how deadly are black widows? Not as deadly as we tend to believe. According to the National Poison Data Center, about 1,800 Americans were bitten by them in 2013. More than 1,000 of these never sought medical treatment. Of the 800 who did, only 14 cases were considered major, and nobody died from their bite.