When you think of widow spiders, most pest management professionals will immediately think of the Black widow spider because this is the most common species encountered and controlled regularly.
However, there are five different species of widow spiders in the United States, the Red widow, Brown widow, Western black widow, Southern black widow, and Northern black widow.
The name widow spiders came from believing that the female usually killed and ate the male after mating. However, studies have shown the female eating the male rarely occurs so long as he can leave her web after mating. But the female American widow spiders and the Australian redback spider begin eating the male as part of the mating ritual.
Widow spiders are not aggressive, and the primary danger from widow spiders lies in their venom. When they bite a person, it usually occurs when someone accidentally presses the spider into their flesh by handling something to which the spider has attached its web.
Human deaths have indeed occurred from widow spider bites; however, it is important to note that modern fatalities from widow bites occur in less than 1 percent of all people bitten. The chances of dying are so low that one researcher compared the chances of dying from a widow spider bite to your chances of being struck by lightning.
Like all spiders, the widow spiders have two main body parts, the cephalothorax, and abdomen. The cephalothorax is where the head and legs are, and the abdomen is much larger than the cephalothorax. The silk and web-making appendages, called spinnerets, are attached to the rear end of the abdomen.
The webs of widow spiders are not orderly but rather a tangled mass or cobweb. The widow spider typically lives in a small portion of the cobweb and detects vibrations from insects trapped in the web. Widow spiders generally do not infest homes but prefer dark, close quarters outdoors, such as woodpiles or crevices under rocks. They may be found in basements, crawl spaces, and attics when they migrate indoors. They typically nest in narrow gaps between the wall, a stored box, or other objects. In warehouses and similar storage facilities, the widow spiders can become a significant pest because they tend to build webs between stationary objects and the walls of the structures.
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