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  • Bryan W. Alaspa

Spider Facts: the Black Widow

There are few spiders in the world with a more fearsome, and undeserved, reputation than the black widow spider. They are just the epitome of "evil" to a lot of people. They are a shiny black with the bright red hourglass markings. They are notorious for being deadly poisonous and for eating their mates - giving rise to the idea of wives who kill their husbands being labeled "black widows." There was even a movie out in the 80s with that as a title about a vicious woman who did exactly that.

Almost all of is almost entirely hyperbole and exaggerated.

Sure, the black widow is poisonous - or venomous. Almost all spiders contain venom and they use it to paralyze prey. Spiders secrete substances which liquefy the insides of their intended prey and they suck them out to eat. It's not pleasant, but generally humans are far too big for a spider as tiny as a black widow to eat. So, why waste the poison?

Often black widows issue "dry bites" to get rid of an intended threat, but you have to be in a very narrow category to be at a true risk.

Black Widows are a lot like the Brown Recluse. Most of the time, during the year, they prefer to hide in very out of the way places. They make very messy and disorganized webs in piles of wood, leaves, beneath decks and other places where they will not get disturbed. They feed on other insects and they do that by biting them, wrapping them in their webbing and devouring their insides.

Most of the time people will not have to worry about black widows. They do not go out hunting for food. The food comes to their webs and stumble into the messy home. So, more than likely you would only stumble across them by very literally stumbling into their webs while out in the yard and this is why they probably pose the greatest bite risk to children or pets. Even then, the black widow would prefer to run away, so if you fall on them, they will probably bite.

More than likely if you see black widows out and about, it is probably the fall. That's because that time of year is mating season and they go a-wanderin' for mates. The males look for females and females look for males.

So - to answer the questions:

1. Are black widows poisonous? Yes. Nearly every spider has venome

2. Are black widows a health risk to people? They can be. If you are a child or elderly. If you are in ill health and if you have allergies to bites from arachnids or insects, you might have a difficult time.

3. Should you seek medical attention for a black widow bite? Yes, probably. Just to be safe, if you can bring the spider which bit you along with you, and seek attention for any bite you get, the doctor can determine if you are at risk and what the treatment should be.

4. Can people die from black widow bites? It is very, very, very unlikely. They have this fearsome reputation of being killers, but there have been very few deaths linked to them and even those are suspect.

5. Do black widows eat their mates? Not all that often. The males have developed ways to stay out of the way, but after mating, in order to lay all of those eggs, the female needs energy. If there's nothing else in the web, they will gladly eat their mate. But this is true of most spiders. Spiders are inherently cannibalistic and have no trouble eating each other.

Don't go searching for black widows. If you are bitten by them, seek medical attention, but it is very unlikely you will have trouble. Still - better safe than sorry. Leave black widows alone, and more than likely they will leave you alone.


The town of Whittier is isolated in Alaska and the people all live within towers once used by the military. The tourist season is over and winter is on the way. Then a body washes up on shore. A body that says it's from the government facility across the sound at Esther Island. With a storm coming, the citizens of Whittier have to deal with this on their own. They put the body in the basement of the towers, but their doctor wants to find out what killed this man. Was it a disease? How dangerous is it?

Then the horror begins.

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