By Tony Gennaro
Black widow spider, not aggressive but dangerous.
When my friend Frankie and I were 10 years of age, we roamed the foothills, open fields, and vacant lots in our hometown of Raton searching for insects and spiders. Our intent was not to harm little creatures, except for red ants which we always considered the enemy. One species of spider, however, received our greatest respect — the black widow. It has a unique feature, a black, large pea-shaped body, a feature easily described to me by my Mom who would say, “Those are dangerous, Tony, don’t mess with them. Leave them alone. Hear me. Leave them alone.” Obviously, such words were challenging to a couple of 10-year-olds. Con-sequently, few black widow spiders escaped our capture.
Now, a mature adult, I don’t search for black widows, but I do search the literature for information about them. And, my mom was correct in that no other spider resembles the black widow. Mom never mentioned the red hourglass marking on their underside because she did not know about it. As far the black widow’s web, it shows no organization and is usually found in or around dwellings wherever sunlight is present such as corners, garages, or under beds near windows. The undersides of sitting boards in outdoor privies are especially attractive to the spiders. One must be cautious of privies rarely used and not under the care of governmental personnel. If such a site is necessary for use, a branch or other device should be used to scrape the underside of the seat and apply a thorough dose of spray designed specifically for spiders. Do not rely on a general use spray for all insects.
Black widow spiders are not aggressive. They move to the corner of their web to hide when disturbed by an intruder with a stick. But, if they cannot escape and are unintentionally squeezed in bedding or clothing, they will protect themselves by injecting the intruder with venom, 15 times the potency than that of a rattlesnake.
Once the venom enters flesh, the victim is in serious trouble and must seek medical assistance immediately. A minimum amount of time should be spent searching for the spider with the assumption that medical personnel will need it. Symptoms should begin in about 10 to 20 minutes following the bite. They could include abdominal pain, vomiting, restlessness, sweating, elevated blood pressure, salivation, rashes and/or convulsions. Injection of an antivenom by medical personnel brings permanent relief in about one-half hour and reduces mortality to a low percent. Other pain remedies may also be prescribed. Young adults and the elderly present special concern since they do not respond as effectively as other individuals.
One should be vigilant regarding the presence of spiders, especially in bedding, clothing, and when camping. If the campsite is unmanaged and remote, be cautious, supply family and friends with a portable potty.