Black Widow Spiders
You know them as the male-eating poisonous spiders with the red hourglass shape on their abdomen, but did you know that Northern black widow spiders live in Michigan’s lower peninsula?
Let’s get one thing clear, these spiders can be dangerous and deadly, but there are also a lot of misconceptions about black widows. Understanding more about these creatures can prepare you for what to do in a black window encounter inside or outside of the home.
Black Widow Facts
Michigan is home to the Northern black widow, which is found on the western side of the lower peninsula. Like most spiders, they prefer dark cluttered spaces. Outside, they enjoy tall grass, brush piles, hollow logs, abandoned animal habitats, and firewood piles. Indoors, they like cluttered garages, crawl spaces, corners and basements.
Southern black widows have the distinct, connected hourglass shape on their abdomen. The Northern black widow species found in Michigan has an hourglass shape as well, but theirs is disconnected (the two red triangles don’t touch).
Males vs. Females
Females are about 1.5 inches large with their legs spread. They are known for the hourglass shape, while males are smaller and usually have stripes or markings on their back rather than the abdomen. Juvenile male and female black widows often bare markings similar to the adult male’s. Remember: adult females are the dangerous ones.
Another way to spot a black widow is by their silk sack, where they keep their eggs. This ovular shape of tightly-spun silk is dangerous to touch or tamper with as a parent spider will defend it. If you see one anywhere on your property, call a pest control expert to get rid of it.
Black widows are not looking to attack humans without provocation. They may bite when threatened, but will usually run away instead.
How Deadly is a Black Widow Bite?
Despite widespread fear of black widows, fatalities from the spiders are rare. Male black widows are considered harmless, but even the female bites are rarely deadly to humans. While these spiders will bite when they feel threatened, less than 1% of bites result in death. In fact, despite recording over 20,000 black widow bites in the U.S. from 2000 to 2008, the American Association of Poison Control Centers recorded that only 1.4% of bite victims showed serious health concerns and none resulted in death.
What You Need to Know About the Bite
- Not all bites are equal – the spider can eject different amounts of venom (or no venom at all) into a bite.
- Black widow bites are most dangerous to children, the elderly, and pets.
- If you suspect you or anyone else has been bitten by a black widow, you should visit the E.R. immediately for treatment.
Living in a Land of Black Widow Spiders
Living in Southwestern Michigan means living among black widow spiders. The good news is, bites, and especially deadly or dangerous ones, are rare. However, there are some simple things you can do to reduce the likelihood of a bad black widow encounter.
Shake Your Shoes Before Wearing
This is an especially good idea in a camping context, but it never hurts to play it safe. Black widows are most threatened when being squished.
Put Your Firewood on a Pedestal
Black widows spin their odd webs low to the ground. Elevating your firewood reduces the chance of making your wood pile a home for black widows. Keeping your firewood stored at least twenty feet from your home or garage is another good way to keep black widows out of the house.
Cut Grass Low
Letting grass grow wild creates a black widow-friendly habitat. Keeping your grass trimmed is a preventative best practice.
Whether you’re handling firewood or cleaning out storage, it’s a good idea to wear gloves. Thick gloves can prevent you from taking a spider bite on the hand if you accidentally stumble upon a black widow web or nest and spook the spider.
Take Black Widows Seriously
In general, you don’t need to live your life in fear of black widows, but you should take them seriously, especially if you have young children, elderly people, or pets in the home. Go to the hospital in the event of a black widow bite, and if you see one in or around your home, call your pest control professional to take care of the issue.