Any mention of the black widow spider will probably result in frantic glances and panicked cries. However, the black widow isn’t as dangerous as mainstream media will have you believe. Yes, it does have a venomous bite, but it rarely results in death.
And even if you have full-blown arachnophobia, you can’t deny its admirable appearance. Here are some intriguing facts about the eight-legged creature.
Male and female black widows look very different from each other. Their name might suggest that they’re entirely black, but that isn’t actually the case. The female spiders of black widow species do have distinct glossy black bodies with reddish hourglass-shaped markings.
Males, on the other hand, are lighter in color, usually with brown or gray bodies and smaller abdomens dotted with red or pinkish spots. Female black widows are 0.5 inches long, while males are typically about half that size.
Black widows are found throughout the world, across almost all continents. In the United States, the spiders usually inhabit the southern and western regions of the country. They like to make their homes in urban areas, near where people live, spinning their webs in dark, secluded corners, whether indoors or outdoors.
The female black widow has a reputation for eating males after mating, which is how the spider got its name, but this phenomenon is actually quite rare. According to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, mate eating in the wild has never been recorded in most North American species.
This kind of behavior has only been observed in captivity and with species located in the Southern Hemisphere. But overall, it is not the norm.
Black widows mostly eat insects that become trapped in their messy webs, although they have been known to consume prey such as snakes and lizards as well. Once their prey is tangled up, black widows will go in for a bite, which paralyzes their victim. Then, they will release digestive enzymes into the body of their prey, making it ready to eat.
A black widow’s bite contains a toxic chemical called alpha-latrotoxin. The effects of a bite can include nausea, muscle aches, difficulty breathing, and excessive sweating. The pain can last for eight to twelve hours, and the other symptoms may persist for several days.