Black widow

Aug 5, 2005

Found in the window: a big black widow spider Another in my occasional series on large spiders found in the house. I leaned over the futon to reach for the string to lower the shades, and a few inches from my face was this big, beautiful female black widow spider. Luckily, it was on the opposite side of the window. (In the North Carolina summer, our home is mostly air-conditioned; earlier this week, thinking there’d be cooler weather, we’d contemplated opening the windows for a few days. We’re fortunate we didn’t.)

I’ve been fascinated with and frightened of black widow spiders since I was a child living in Arizona. My mother trained me to be watchful, looking for the spiders in boxes and corners of the cabinets. Never did get bit, and never did see such a large specimen of this poisonous spider.

From the N.C. State Cooperative Extension, I learn this:

The female black widow possesses a venom 15 times more potent than rattlesnake venom. The bite is like a pin prick but causes pain within a few minutes of the attack. The pain spreads rapidly to arms, legs, chest, back, and abdomen. Chills, vomiting, difficult respiration, profuse perspiration, delirium, partial paralysis, violent abdominal cramps and spasms may occur within a few hours of the bite. The victim usually recovers in 2 to 5 days; about 5% of all black widow attacks are fatal.

What to do with my pretty spider? I’d love to catch it in a glass bottle so I could examin it more closely. The Cooperative Extension says “indoors, spiders and their webs can be vacuumed up without hazard.”

Want more on bugs? There’s always my classic story about roaches on Paama.

EDIT: Upon further close scrutiny, the red dots down the spider’s back make this Latrodectus variolus, the northern black widow.

Anton Zuiker

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