Black Widow Spider


ORDER: Araneae

FAMILY: Theridiidae

GENUS: Latrodectus

SPECIES: mactans

DESCRIPTION:
Male is 1/8 inches, female 3/8 inches. Black. Male's abdomen is elongate with white and red markings on the sides. Female's abdomen is almost spherical, usually with red hourglass mark below or with two transverse red marks. The legs of the male are much longer in proportion to its body than those of the female. Spiderlings are orange, brown and white, gaining more black at each molt.

GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
Massachusetts to Florida, west to California, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas; most common in the South. Found among fallen branches, under stones, in outbuildings and under objects such as furniture.

DIET:
Insects.

LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
Web is an irregular mesh with a funnel-shaped retreat, built in sheltered spots. The female rarely leaves the web and defends the pale brown pear-shaped egg mass which is suspended near the rest site. The female stores sperm and can produce more egg sacs without mating. Spiderlings disperse soon after hatching. Some females live more than 3 years.

SPECIAL ADAPTATIONS:
As part of the family of comb-footed spiders, they have 6-10 comb-like bristles on the hind tarsi. They use their combs to fling silk strands over any captive that gets caught in the web. The swathed victim is hauled to a rest site on the web, injected with venom and later eaten.

INTERPRETIVE INFORMATION:
The Black Widow is probably the most feared spider in the United States because of its venom. Despite its reputation, the female spider attempts to escape rather than bite, unless defending her egg case. The males do not bite. After mating, the female sometimes eats the male (depending on how well fed she is), earning the name "widow". People usually get bitten by accident, such as when the spider is squeezed against the skin in clothing or a shoe. All spiders are venomous (with the exception of one family), but only a few are capable of piercing human skin and of those, most only produce a painful bite. The three genera of spiders which may be deadly are the several widow species, the Australian funnel web spiders, and a genus of wandering spiders found in South America.

OUR ANIMALS:

STATUS IN WILD:
Not endangered.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Kaston, B.J. 1978. How to Know the Spiders. Wm C. Brown Co, Dubuque, Iowa.
  2. Milne, Lorus and Margery.1980. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
  3. Preston-Mafham, Rod. 1991. The Book of Spiders. Chartwell Books, Edison, NJ.

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