The Black Widow Spider Bite: 11 Important Facts to Know
There are certain things you need to understand about a black widow spider bite. You should check out some important facts here.
The black widow spider bite sounds like the stuff of nightmares. Truth be told, getting bit by one will not equate to one of your best days. However, there are some myths about the bite that makes it sound worse than it is.
We’ll be covering some of those misconceptions in the following article, as well as what to watch for if you believe that you’ve been unfortunate enough to end up on the receiving end of one. First, however, let’s examine the spider itself.
Black Widow Attributes
Seeing a lot of black spiders in or around your property or dwelling place? Don’t panic. It may not necessarily be a black widow spider.
In fact, many black spiders are harmless wolf or field spiders. Their bite may not feel great, but the effects are not going to stay with you for a couple of weeks either.
Before you can know whether you’ve been bitten by a black widow, you need to understand what one is. Here’s a quick hit list.
Not Always Black
Much of the time a black widow is going to live up to its color namesake, but some of the breeds display a brownish-black color. (Not to be confused with a brown recluse spider.) Therefore, you shouldn’t assume a spider isn’t a black widow just because it doesn’t fit the stereotypical “look.”
After all, there are such things as red widows and brown widows as well. Thankfully, there are other indicators that can shine a light on what you’re dealing with in a black widow.
If there’s ever any doubt about the “widow” status, look for the markings on the body of the black widow. They typically follow a distinct hourglass pattern that can be either red or orange in nature (most often red). Any colorful “tattoos” on your spider should be cause for alarm.
Aggression isn’t something commonly associated with a black widow spider unless it’s a female protecting her eggs. These arachnids are at their most vicious if they feel their egg sac is in danger. During these moments, they will not hesitate to bite a human being or attack an unwitting creature it deems “threatening.”
Female black widow spiders have earned a reputation for eating their mates after sex. The common story you’ll read online is that it happens like clockwork, but the reality is that sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
Now that you’ve “met” this spider up close and personal, it’s time to look at the black widow bite itself. There are 11 important facts you should know about the experience. Here goes.
1. It Is More Venomous Than a Rattlesnake
According to the St. Louis Zoo, the potency of a black widow bite is 15 times more intense than that of a rattlesnake. This may seem like a myth when you consider how much more damage rattlesnake bites do, but it’s true.
What gives? In a word, quantity. The black widow emits very little venom when it bites a person compared to a rattlesnake, which injects a much larger amount.
Regardless of which one you’re bitten by, your odds of survival are good. Rattlesnake bites, however, require more immediate medical attention.
2. It Is Very Painful
Black widows are actually doing you a favor when they bite you because they “go easy” on the amount of venom they inject. Just to put it in perspective, the small amount they do emit can result in up to 12 hours of intense whole-body pain.
So the next time you are bitten by a black widow spider, say thanks. (Kidding.)
3. It Can Be Neutralized by Antivenin
What do horses and black widow spiders have in common? For whatever reason, antivenin, or “horse serum,” is one of the best neutralizers of a black widow spider bite. Antivenin gets the horse serum moniker because it’s harvested from certain antibodies found in horses.
However, a doctor isn’t just going to give you a dose of antivenin because it has some side effects of its own. That’s why it is crucial to know you were bitten by a black widow and not some other species of spider.
Black widow bite symptoms are fine to go on, but try to confirm as much as you can. You can do this by capturing or killing the spider and taking it to the doctor with you.
4. Fatality Chances Are Higher for Small Children and the Elderly
Learning how to treat a black widow bite is vital if you live with small children or elderly family members because it can literally be a life-and-death situation for them. This is because both groups have more immune system issues whether through lack of development or system deterioration.
If your young or elderly loved ones are bitten by a black widow, don’t hesitate. Go to the emergency room immediately as urgent care clinics are not typically equipped to counteract a black widow spider bite.
5. Tylenol Helps
Starting to experience whole-body black widow spider bite symptoms? It can be tough to get through without the aid of a painkiller. Fortunately, one of the most effective is probably sitting in your medicine cabinet at this very moment.
Acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in Tylenol, helps to reduce some of the issues you’ll experience. These include headaches or back pains. Take as directed, no matter how intense the pain is.
6. The Black Widow Does Not Want to Bite You
We’ve already touched a little on the personality of the black widow spider, but it’s worth highlighting here so you don’t find yourself living in constant fear of them. At day’s end, a black widow spider just doesn’t want to bite you.
That’s why they stay in dark and hidden areas like crawlspaces, garages, under decks, and woodpiles. They also are nocturnal creatures and try never to come out in the open during daylight.
7. Trips to the ER Are Not Automatic
Trips to the emergency room are quite expensive, and we don’t blame you if you want to hold off until normal office hours. However, keep the following in mind.
Elderly and children should be taken at once, no exceptions
Severe reactions such as cramps, aches, fever, nausea, and vomiting shouldn’t be ignored
Multiple spider bites should be treated with a higher degree of caution
Whether you go to the ER should be gauged on the severity of your reaction. If you’re experiencing minor pain without immediate whole-body symptoms, you may wish to ride it out. Keep in mind that there hasn’t been a stateside death from a black widow spider reported since 1983.
8. Recovery Can Take Several Days
You’re probably thinking, “Great news, it probably won’t kill me!” That said, you may want to hold off on the celebration.
That’s because it can take a week or more to fully recover from a black widow spider bite. This especially is true if the doctor passed on the antivenin treatment because he was not able to confirm it was actually a black widow that bit you.
9. Initial Reactions Are Not That Painful
Something else to remember about black widow bites is that they won’t necessarily hurt when you first feel them. They’ve been described as a “pinprick” sensation.
You might notice an acute pain at first, but then promptly forget about it until the more severe symptoms set in. Try to be aware of your surroundings and experiences from the time you felt the pinprick to the time you move into the more severe symptoms. Those connections can be vital to receiving swift and accurate treatment.
10. Fang Marks and Swelling Are Great Indicators
Should you experience a bite from an ordinary field spider, you likely won’t feel it right away. It could be later in the day when you notice the itch and the fang marks taking hold.
The black widow experience is considerably different. The potency of the venom results in faster swelling around the bite location.
Remember what we said about connections. Connect the marks and the swelling with severity, timing, and location. Were you in an environment more common to black widow activity when you started to experience the sensations?
11. Cleanliness Is Your Best Bet for Avoidance
No article on black widow spider bites would be complete if we didn’t tell you how to avoid them. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to do so once you know their behaviors.
They are extremely antisocial spiders, so the chances of finding one in your home — particularly one ready to strike — is low when compared to other spiders. The aforementioned garages, decks, woodpiles, and crevices are more its speed. Keeping these areas tidy and clean will remove the incentive for black widows to hang around.
Knowing the Signs of a Black Widow Spider Bite Is Vital
We hope this in-depth look at the black widow spider bite has calmed some of the fears you may have had regarding this species of arachnid and prepared you for what to do should you end up with one. While you’re here, make sure you check out our tips on how to control and exterminate this and other types of spiders.
If you do notice a lot of spiders hanging around your house, give us a call. We’re happy to help! Experiencing issues with spider similar to black widows? Check out our pest page on spiders or some of our recent blog posts on spiders including “Why You Have a Spider Problem in Mississippi“, “How to Get Rid of Spiders“, “Guide to Mississippi Spiders“, and “Spider Control & Extermination“.