The black widow spider is one of the few venomous spiders found in the United
States (venom is a type of poison). It is part of the arachnid family, which includes
not just spiders, but ticks, mites,
and scorpions, too. Its body is
about one-half inch long (smaller than a dime), and it has long legs. The black widow
spider is shiny and black with a red-orange or yellow mark in the shape of an hourglass
on its stomach.
Black widow spiders and their relatives can be found almost anywhere in the Western
hemisphere of the world in damp and dark places. Their favorite places are woodpiles,
tree stumps, trash piles, storage sheds, fruit and vegetable gardens, in stone walls,
and under rocks.
If they come inside, they will go to dark places like corners of closets, garages,
or behind furniture. They are shy by nature and bite only when trapped, sat on, or
What a Bite Looks and Feels Like
A person who gets bitten by a black widow spider might not know it right away,
since the bite can sometimes feel like a little pinprick. After 30 to 40 minutes,
though, the area of the bite will swell and hurt a lot, and sometimes a person can
get achy all over.
Other symptoms can include weakness, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and headache.
What You Should Do
If you ever think that you've been bitten by a black widow spider, tell
an adult immediately. Black widow spider bites rarely kill people, but it's
important to get medical attention as soon as you can because they can make you very
With an adult's help, wash the bite well with soap and water. Then apply an ice
pack to the bite, and try to elevate the area and keep it still to help prevent the
spread of venom (poison).
If it's possible, have an adult catch and bring the spider to the doctor's office
with you. Even though it's usually easy to identify black widows, you'll want to make
sure that's the kind of spider that bit you. The spider can be killed first before
you bring it with you; just be sure not to squish it so much that no one can tell
what it is.
What a Doctor Will Do
Doctors treat people who have been bitten by black widow spiders with medications
to help relax the muscles and reduce pain. They sometimes give antivenin, a medication
that fights the venom in the spider's bite, if someone who has been bitten has underlying
medical problems or doesn't get better from the other medications.
How to Avoid Getting Bitten
The best way to avoid getting bitten by black widow spiders is to be careful in
areas where they like to spend time. Don't play around in rock piles or woodpiles.
If you are working outside in the yard in big piles of logs or leaves, wear gloves.
Be sure to shake out blankets and clothing that have been stored in the attic or
the basement, or if they have been in a closet but not used for a long time.
If you are cleaning behind furniture, look carefully behind it before reaching
around. If you keep your shoes in a mudroom or garage, shake them out before putting