Black Widow Spider

Notorious for the wicked treatment of her mate, the black widow may be the most well-known spider species. The black widow spider you know, most likely the Southern or Western black widow, is actually one of many different widow species. Read on to learn about the black widow spider.

Description of the Black Widow Spider

While individual species vary in appearance, widow spiders are typically black or dark in color, with a red hourglass shape of some type on the abdomen. Each species is slightly different in appearance. Black widow spiders have eight legs, and a rather chaotic looking web.

Interesting Facts About the Black Widow Spider

Black widows are famous for their red hourglass, and cannibalization of their mates. These are only two of the many interesting traits of the black widow.

  • Vile Venom – While black widows are venomous, reportedly 15 times more venomous than a rattlesnake, they are not nearly as fatal as the mainstream media might lead you to believe. Most people who are bitten by black widow spiders suffer only minor injury and discomfort. The people most at risk when bitten are children, the elderly, and those with a weakened immune system. Regardless, if bitten by a black widow, seek medical help immediately.
  • She’s a Man-eater – Contrary to the popular belief that all black widow spiders feast upon their mates after breeding, researchers have found that each species varies in their post-coital behavior. In some species of widow spiders, the males escape the vast majority of the time, in other species they actually allow themselves to be cannibalized!
  • Liquid Diet – Black widows, along with many other spider species, will spin a silk cocoon around their captured prey. Once the food has been bundled up, the spider injects it with digestive enzymes, creating a bug-milkshake of sorts. This liquid bug is then easy for the spider to slurp up!
  • Secluded Abodes – The black widow spider prefers to spin its web in dark and protected environments. These spiders typically bite humans only when they have been directly disturbed, pinched, or squeezed. This usually occurs when the person is moving objects the spiders like to hide under, like firewood.

Habitat of the Black Widow Spider

Black widow spiders are reclusive and shy creatures. Because of this behavior, they tend to spin webs in dark, undisturbed areas. They can frequently be found in holes and woodpiles, under old furniture, and within infrequently used spaces like sheds, attics, and basements.

Distribution of the Black Widow Spider

There are 31 known species of widow spiders, and different species can be found in different regions worldwide. They inhabit every continent on Earth except Antarctica.

Diet of the Black Widow Spider

Black widows prey on a number of different insects. Their most commonly captured prey include mosquitos, caterpillars, grasshoppers, flies, and beetles. Widows spin silk webs to capture prey. Once the web ensnares a bug, the spider uses its venom to incapacitate it before wrapping it in a cocoon.

Black Widow Spider and Human Interaction

Widow spiders and humans rarely interact. The spiders only bite people when seriously threatened or accidentally grabbed. These infrequent interactions almost always result in minor injuries, though these injuries entail serious damage to the tissue surrounding the bite.

Immediate medical attention can mitigate the amount of damage. The people who are most susceptible to a black widow’s bite are children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.


Widow spiders have not been domesticated in any way.

Does the Black Widow Spider Make a Good Pet

While black widows are not always deadly, they are venomous animals, and should not be kept as a pet.

Black Widow Spider Care

While black widows should not be kept as pets, they can easily be kept in human care. A widow spider does not require much space, as she typically remains in her web once it is built. They must be provided with plenty of ventilation, and adequate material to build their webs. Some frequently used objects include sticks or branches, rocks, and plants. They should be fed every few weeks, using crickets, flies, moths, or mealworms.

Behavior of the Black Widow Spider

These spiders build webs, and will remain within their webs for the majority of their lives. Widows tend to hang upside-down in the center of the web, waiting for prey to become trapped in the silk strands. Male spiders will travel to the webs of female spiders to mate.

Reproduction of the Black Widow Spider

Black widows are famous for cannibalizing their mates after breeding. This does not occur at high rates in all widow species. When breeding, males will frequently choose females who have already eaten to mate with, thus avoiding becoming dinner themselves. Females who eat the their male counterparts have been shown to increase the survival rate of their offspring.

Beliefs, Superstitions, and Phobias About the Black Widow Spider

Virtually everything we know about black widow spiders is amplified by people’s propensity to vilify any animal that isn’t “cute.” Even the act prompting their namesake, feeding on the males of the species, is not as common as people are led to believe. In fact, most of the research done this habit was performed within enclosed habitats in which the male had no space to escape.

The “deadly” venom of the black widow is actually only harmful in some cases. Even before the creation of antivenom for black widow bites, fatality only occurred in 5% of cases. The likelihood of a black widow bite killing you is very small, especially if you receive medical treatment.

Symptoms of Black Widow Spider Bite

Initially the bite area is likely to redden and become painful. While tissue damage at the bite location is the most common result of a widow bite, the venom can cause muscle spasms that make the victim’s chest and abdomen hurt. Other, more severe symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever and chills
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Seizure

Your local emergency room is equipped to treat black widow spider bites. If you experience any of these serious symptoms, head to the emergency department immediately. Seeking immediate treatment after a bite will likely help you avoid any of these serious issues altogether.