Widow Spiders

Widow Spiders

Widow-Spiders
  • Common Name(s): Southern Black Widow, Northern Black Widow, Brown Widow
  • Order: Araneae
  • Family: Theridiidae
  • Common Species: Latrodectus mactans, Latrodectus variolus, Latrodectus geometricus
  • Commonly Confused With: Other Spiders, Particularly False Widows

Characteristics

How to Identify?
Widow spiders in Georgia possess a dark black or brown abdomen (back section of a spider) and cephalothorax (front section of a spider). Many people identify widows by their colored hourglass on the ventral (bottom) side of the abdomen. The hourglass shape can vary in size, color, and completeness based on the species or gender. Brown widows will typically have a more orange colored hourglass while southern and northern widows have a redder colored hourglass but they can be seen with a yellow or orange colored hourglass. Brown widows also tend to have a more tan or brown colored body and banded/striped legs. The body of a widow spider is about 1/2 inch in length for females and about 1/4 inch for males. With their legs totally extended the size of widow spiders can almost double.

Habitat

Where do they live?
These spiders are most commonly found outside the home. They like to hide in areas that are not out in the open. Water meter boxes, utility boxes, toys with hollow areas, under rocks, rubble/wood piles, etc. are all prime locations for these spiders. When they get inside they can be found in areas like sheds, garages, and cluttered basements. They are not usually found roaming out in the open. They can also get inside shoes thinking they are a safe burrow or hideaway.

Food Source

What do they eat?
Widow spiders are predators of insects and other arthropods (insects, spiders, crustaceans, millipedes, etc). They are not hunting spiders like some other species but instead spend most of their time near their webs in secluded locations.

Activity

What do they do?
Widow spiders are feared because of their extremely potent neurotoxic venom. When they inflict a bite on a human the venom starts to affect the nervous system, often resulting in involuntary muscle contractions and varying levels of pain. Children and the elderly are at a higher risk of death or severe reaction from a widow bite. However, the typical healthy adult should not die from being bitten. This is not a guarantee and you should seek medical help right away if you experience a widow bite. Widows are one of two medically significant spider genera in the United States (the other genera being recluse spiders). While the bite of widows is dangerous it is usually a very rare occurrence. Widows are not aggressive spiders and usually bite in self-defense after a person has rolled on top of them in bed, trapped them in a shoe with their foot, or squished them as they are hiding in a secluded location. The venom is costly for these spiders to produce and is not wasted unless the spider finds no alternative. Again, this is no guarantee and these spiders should be admired from a safe distance and not handled by untrained persons for any reason.

Fun Fact

As you can see from the characteristics section of this page, widows come in a variety of shapes and colors. Interestingly, there are also a red widow and white widow species (Latrodectus Bishopi–Red Widow, Latrodectus Pallidus–White Widow). While the white widow cannot be found in North America and the Red Widow is only found in Florida, they are still cool spiders to know about!

Additional Resources

Author: G. Wyatt West– B.S.E.S University of Georgia 2017; Board Certified Entomologist

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