Spider Bites from Black Widow Spiders

my exerience with spider bites from black widows

Like many kids growing up in the southeastern United States, I was always taught to fear black widow spiders. I fully believed that spider bites from these arachnids were always deadly. I suppose our parents instilled this fear in us so that we’d avoid black widows at all costs, which wasn’t really such a bad strategy. Unlike most kids of today, we played outdoors almost all the time. In my neighborhood, we kids spent hours just about every day in the woods, coming in contact with all sorts of critters. As an adult, I experienced several spider bites at the same time, all from black widow spiders.


Black widow spider picture by Laura Henderson Design: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laurahendersondesign/
Black widow spider picture by Laura Henderson Design: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laurahendersondesign/

My experience with spider bites

The event happened when I was in my twenties. I lived in a rural area of Southeast Georgia, out in the middle of nowhere, and was residing in an old farmhouse. Like many similar houses from the same era, this one was open underneath. The house hadn’t been lived in for a while when we moved in, so it needed some repairs and some cosmetic work. After remodeling the inside, we began working on the yard.

I was really into flowers and ornamental plants at the time, so I set about “taming” the yard and making flower beds around the house. I was planting flowers, and there was a large cinderblock in my would-be flower bed. I turned it over and pushed it out of the way. As I steadied myself with my left hand and dug in the soil with a garden spade in my right hand, I suddenly felt as if my left hand was being stuck with pins. I looked, and to my horror, my hand was covered with black widow spiders. Some were very small, but a couple were larger than the others.

My husband was at work at the time, about twenty miles away. I ran in the house and got my small daughter, and we drove the 100 yards or so to the home of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. After telling them what happened, they phoned our doctor. He said I probably didn’t need medical attention, but he told them warning signs to look for. I was experiencing a significant amount of pain, especially with one of the bite sites. They gave me a pain pill, and I fell asleep almost immediately.

I woke up to find an ice pack on my hand. As I remembered the spider bites, I wasn’t completely sure that I was still alive.

Black Widow Spider Bites

Spider bites from black widows aren’t nearly as lethal as I had always been taught to believe. Also, all the bites are not equal. Spider bites from male black widows, for example, aren’t dangerous to humans. Spider bites from the females, however, often are. Much depends on where you were bitten, and on how your body chemistry reacts to the spider bite. Some people are much more sensitive than others. Also, spider bites don’t always contain venom. “Dry” spider bites occur when a spider sinks its fangs in but doesn’t inject any venom.

After learning more about black widow spider bites, I think the smaller spiders I saw that day must have been males. I also think that all but one of the spider bites were dry bites, as one bite site was much more painful than the others.

Spider Bite Symptoms

Some people who are bitten by black widow spiders don’t even feel the initial bite, while others do. Black widow spiders, especially the females, are capable of injecting a neurotoxin, affecting the nervous system of humans. Some people have little reaction to these spider bites, while others might have severe symptoms.

Typical symptoms might include sweating, weakness, headache, chest pain, dizziness, and nausea. Muscles in the back and shoulder might cramp. Some victims might also experience breathing difficulties. The injection site might become swollen, too.

What do black widow spider bites look like?

Like other spiders, black widows have two fangs that they use for biting. Spider bites from black widows appear as two small punctures. The bite site might become red and swollen, and it could be very painful.

Treatment of spider bites from black widows

Many people who are bitten by black widow spiders never seek medical care. For healthy adults, these spider bites are rarely deadly. In fact, in the decade of the 1950s, only 63 people died as a result of spider bites from black widows in the U.S.

Spider bite victims with severe reactions might require antivenin. Unfortunately, not all hospitals have the antivenin available. Even when the antivenin is available, it’s rarely used. The main reason for this is that the antivenin itself is sometimes more dangerous than the spider bites. Black widow antivenin is derived from horse serum and can cause anaphylactic shock, which can result in death.

Home treatment for black widow bites

If you experience spider bites, try to capture the spider responsible. If it was a black widow spider that bit you, try to remain calm. An ice pack helped with my spider bites, but some people find more relief from warm compresses. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever and lie down.

If your pain is severe, or if you experience severe symptoms like the ones mentioned above, call your physician or visit the closest emergency room. Even if they don’t have black widow antivenin, they can at least help manage your pain and some of the side effects from the spider bites.


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Comments 25 comments

leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York

My dad used to work in construction (in California) and he was once bitten by a black widow. It was very painful, and he was very sick, but he recovered just fine (he was a healthy young man, so it just took time to work the venom out of his system). It wasn't an experience he ever wanted to repeat, though! I'm rather glad that we don't have Black Widows in Western NY. I suppose there are some advantages to all that snow!


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 5 years ago from Jamaica

I have never had that experience or even seen the black widow spider. I am gad you were okay and that they aren't nearly as lethal as we were made to believe. I have learned a lot from this hub. Thank you Habee!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

This is interesting. I have alsays heard of Black Widow Spiders but didn't know anything about them. I guess up here in wisconsin it is too cold for them.


Jaymye Allen profile image

Jaymye Allen 5 years ago from Sherman, Texas

Very informative. I think, however, I will still run, screaming, in the opposite direction when I see one of these little ladies! But that might just be the arachnophobe in me! Thanks!


Ghost32 5 years ago

I guess the "dry bite" phenomenon must be common to all venomous critters, since the same is true for rattlesnakes? Had never thought about such in relation to spiders, though.

There have been a couple of times I've obviously been spider-bitten...but for whatever reason, never by a spider we've been able to find. Once, ironically while sitting on the sand in Hawaii, I ended up with a "patch" of bites across my chest that formed a perfect (and EXTREMELY itchy) "inflamed map of the Hawaiian Islands".

No kidding. You can't make this stuff up.

Another time, the bite was on the upper left chest and was apparently acquired during my time on the road as a long haul truck driver. That one kept getting worse and worse (more painful and increasing area of inflammation) until antibiotics were prescribed, which probably meant that it was some microbe (not the venom itself) causing the real problem.

But our family does have two key spider bite stories that "really count".

1. During World War II, when my then-21-year-old father was a Navy aircraft mechanic stationed in Florida, he was bitten by a black widow in the neck. That one put him in the hospital and did nearly kill him.

2. In 1999, my wife was bitten on the right hand by a brown recluse. We never saw that spider, either, and it took a couple of days before we figured out what it was--at which point our family doctor immediately agreed, "Oh duh! I should have known when I saw it!"

She could have lost her hand, the way it was going. But the baking soda poultices we applied to draw out the venom plus hardcore antibiotics for the rest of it did the trick. More or less. She had decreased mobility and increased pain plus stiffness in that hand for years. Mostly better now--twelve years after the fact.


jenubouka 5 years ago

Do they thrive in the Pacific Northwest? Is there a spider that resembles the black widow? I have seen quite a few look alikes prowling around in and around my house, fast little buggers too. They appear to have a red spot on the belly, please note, this is after the entire neighborhood had heard me scream words I am not allowed to write, smashing the beast or dowsing it with hairspray.


Cloverleaf profile image

Cloverleaf 5 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

Hi habee

Ooooh creepy hub! I'm not a fan of spiders at the best of times. Fortunately I have never been bitten by a spider but I'm glad to know what to look out for if it ever happens to me.

Cloverleaf.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco

Habee - The personal dimension you've shared really helps what could otherwise be a dry or very scary subject. I remember seeing a female black widow with the tell-tale red hourglass shape on her abdomen as a kid, and being told by a friend's father to avoid it like the plague.

Incidentally, there was a funny skit I saw (from MadTV) that mentioned black widow bites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYT0x34PwLQ


Ana Campos-Day 5 years ago

I think I'd have passed out if I'd seen one of my hands covered with black widow spiders!


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

The brown recluse is the one Kansas kids were taught to look out for and avoid. But one did get into my toddler's bedroom one night and bite the calf of one leg. The area around the bite turned black, the flesh died and fell out, exposing the bone, and took weeks to heal. Very scary!

From the relatively small size of the hole - which looked HUGE on her tiny leg! - the doctor thought it must've been a baby brown recluse and said for that, she was lucky. Had it been a mature one, at the very least she might've lost the leg (to gangrene) or worse, died.

Brown recluses, btw, are brown and easily identified by the lighter violin-shaped mark on their belly.


jenubouka 5 years ago

yeck, I am bombing my house before winter


Dorsi profile image

Dorsi 5 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

Ouch Habee! Thanks for telling your story. I just found a black widow in our yard yesterday but I didn't ask his/her sex before they met their demise.

I can't stand them...eeeeee!!

Thumbs up!


habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Actually, Leah, I read that black widow spiders can be found as far north as Canada!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago

Interesting. I've seen quite a few black widows when I was living on a mountain. Glad that they are not as dangerous as they're made up to be. Rated up.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

I hope they haven't migrated to England -- YET. lol Thank you for your detailed and informative hub.


habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Cardisa, always good to see you here!


mocrow profile image

mocrow 5 years ago from Georgia

Spider bites can be scary and painful, even when they're not from venomous spiders. Partly because if you don't see the spider that bit you, you might automatically assume it was from a black widow or a brown recluse. Glad you survived the spider bites! Voted up.


rwelton profile image

rwelton 5 years ago from Sacramento CA

I like the little spiders in my garden and leave the webs alone that I cant reach with my face...but just saw a black widow in my daughter's playhouse and sent it to heaven (if spiders go there?)...good read.

rlw


Naomi's Banner profile image

Naomi's Banner 5 years ago from United States

Very interesting Hub. I have been bitten by spiders quite a lot but I don't believe ever by a black widow but I have never seen any of the spiders that have bitten me as they are quite sneaky! I have seen and killed many black widow spiders and a few brown recluse. The latter have bitten a few kids out where I work and they lost a good amount of flesh before we realized the were even bitten. Even with treatment the bites can cause a lot of damage. Great Hub!


PADDYBOY60 profile image

PADDYBOY60 5 years ago from Centreville Michigan

Hi Habee

We have them here in Michigan also. They are rare but have been found. When I was in my twenties, I worked on a ranch in Texas. One day I was moving some boards in the yard and was bitten without my knowledge. Suddenly I started to get nauseated. I thought I was coming down with something, so I went into the bathroom and laid down on the floor. My wife came home and found me there. She had to drag me to the bed, because I felt paralyzed and couldn't walk very well. Then she called my boss who lived a half mile from us, and they carried me to the car and took me to the hospital. They gave me pain medicine and ice on my bite. After a couple of days I was back to my former goofy self. Very Informative hub. Be careful out there.


habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Dahoglund, don't be so sure about that. Black widows have been found in Canada!


Samoa6 profile image

Samoa6 4 years ago from San Diego

I really enjoyed reading this very informative hub, and am so glad that you survived! What a horror story to look down and see your hand swarming! They do supposedly nest in the ground.


habee profile image

habee 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks for reading, Samoa!


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Where we lived when I was a child, black widows were plentiful and we were always cautioned to stay away from them. Fortunately we never were bitten which is surprising as we were always poking around where they hung out.

It is good to be aware of this information you have provided. It is interesting to note that the antivenom may be more dangerous than the venom. There is some merit to the belief that if it doesn't kill you, it may cure you...perhaps.

Thanks for sharing.

Sending Angels to you on this 13th day of our new year. :) ps


habee profile image

habee 3 years ago from Georgia Author

ps, sometimes I think it's a wonder that anyone survives childhood! lol. It scares me now to even think about some of the things we did as kids.

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