Black Widow Spider

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Black Widow Spider

Black Widow Spider Scientific Classification

KingdomAnimaliaPhylumArthropodaClassArachnidaOrderAraneaeFamilyTheridiidaeGenusLatrodectusScientific NameLatrodectus

Black Widow Spider Conservation Status

Black Widow Spider Locations

Black Widow Spider Locations


Black Widow Spider Facts

Main PreyInsects, Woodlice, BeetlesDistinctive FeatureSharp fangs and shiny black and red bodyHabitatUrban, temperate forest and woodlandPredatorsWasp, Birds, Small mammalsDietCarnivoreAverage Litter Size250Favorite FoodInsectsCommon NameBlack Widow SpiderNumber Of Species32LocationNorth AmericaSloganThey typically prey on insects!

Black Widow Spider Physical Characteristics

Colour

  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Black

Skin TypeShell

Black Widow Spider Images

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“Only the Bites of Female Black Widow Spiders Are Dangerous”

Their reputations are fierce, but in reality, black widow spiders — aka Latrodectus — are calm, loner pacifists that only unleash venomous bites when they’ve exhausted all other defensive options. Thirty-two species of the infamous arachnids populate the Earth on every continent except Antarctica, and the genus probably popped onto the world scene about 300 million years ago.

Female black widows carry large loads of venom, but males don’t. And though it’s widely believed that all females eat their mates after breeding, such behavior is rare and only happens in lab environments where there’s no escape.

Incredible Black Widow Spider Facts!

  • The strength of black widows’ webs are comparatively stronger than steel! Scientists actively study the spider’s weaving silks in the hopes of replicating it for infrastructure projects, like bridges!
  • At first glance, spiders in the genus Steatoda resemble widow spiders, which is how they got the nickname “false widow spiders.” Steatoda bites aren’t pleasant, but they’re not as destructive as black widow bites.
  • Latrodectus tredecimguttatus is the most deadly of all 32 widow species.
  • Black widow spiders don’t live long lives. Males typically expire in months, and only a smattering of lucky females make it to the ripe old age of three.

Black Widow Spider Scientific Name

Latrodectus is the scientific name for widow spiders. A portmanteau combining the New Latin word “latro,” meaning “bandit,” and the Ancient Greek word “dēktēs,” meaning “biter,” it was coined by French nobleman Baron Charles Athanase Walckenaer in the early 1800s. Colloquially, the name translates to “bandit who bites.”

There are 32 recognized species in the “true widow” genus. In North America, three species — Latrodectus mactans, Latrodectus hesperus, and Latrodectus variolus — are informally known as southern black widows, western black widows, and northern black widows, respectively. Latrodectus tredecimguttatus is the European black widow; Latrodectus hasseltii crawls throughout Australia and known as the redback black widow; in South America, two species — Latrodectus corallinus and Latrodectus curacaviensis — are commonly called South American black widow spiders.

Scientific NameTaxonomy Origin DateRegions
Latrodectus antheratus1932ParaguayArgentina
Latrodectus apicalis1877Galapagos Islands
Latrodectus bishopi1938USA
Latrodectus cinctus1865Cape Verde, AfricaKuwaitIran
Latrodectus corallinus1980Argentina
Latrodectus curacaviensis1776Lesser Antilles, South America
Latrodectus dahli1959Morocco to Central Asia
Latrodectus diaguita1960Argentina
Latrodectus elegans1898IndiaMyanmarThailand, China, Japan
Latrodectus erythromelas1991IndiaSri Lanka
Latrodectus geometricus1841Africa, Introduced to North America and South America, Poland, Middle East, Pakistan, IndiaThailandJapanPapua New GuineaAustraliaHawaii
Latrodectus hasselti1870India, Southeast Asia to AustraliaNew Zealand
Latrodectus hesperus1935North America, Introduced to IsraelKorea
Latrodectus hystrix1890Yemen
Latrodectus indistinctus1904NamibiaSouth Africa
Latrodectus karrooensis1944South Africa
Latrodectus katipo1871New Zealand
Latrodectus lilianae2000SpainAlgeria
Latrodectus mactans1775Probably native to North America only, Introduced to South AmericaAsia
Latrodectus menavodi1863Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles
Latrodectus mirabilis1876Argentina
Latrodectus obscurior1902Cape Verde, Madagascar
Latrodectus pallidus1872Cape Verde to LibyaTurkeyKazakhstanIran, Central Asia
Latrodectus quartus1980Argentina
Latrodectus renivulvatus1902AfricaYemenSaudi ArabiaIraq
Latrodectus revivensis1948Israel
Latrodectus rhodesiensis1972Southern Africa
Latrodectus thoracicus1849Chile
Latrodectus tredecimguttatus1790Mediterranean to China
Latrodectus umbukwane2019South Africa
Latrodectus variegatus1849ChileArgentina
Latrodectus variolus1837USACanada

The distribution of the different Black Widow spider species

Black Widow Spider Appearance and Behavior

Nearly all black widow spiders are about 1.5 inches long, weigh approximately 0.035 ounces, and have dark-colored, hourglass-shaped bodies accented with white, brown, or red markings. Like most web-weaving spiders, widows have terrible eyesight and rely on vibrations to sense prey and danger.

Unlike the Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi), the world’s largest spider, black widows are tiny — about the size of a paperclip. But don’t let their compact bodies fool you — because widows pack dangerous loads! Their bites release a neurotoxin called latrotoxin, which can cause extreme pain, muscle rigidity, vomiting, and heavy sweating. People bitten by black widow spiders may experience these symptoms for up to a week. But it’s false that widow bites routinely result in human fatalities. They do, however, kill cats and dogs.

In the black widow world, only females do damage. Males of the species don’t carry enough venom to harm.

Widow spiders are notorious for female sexual cannibalism — meaning the ladies eat their gents after mating. But what people may not understand is that it doesn’t happen all that often, and not all widow species engage in the practice.

So why do some Latrodectus ladies murder their mates? Nobody knows for sure, but a popular theory postulates that the act increases the odds of offspring survival. Additionally, thanks to special chemicals that emanate from webs after meals, males can sense when females are well-fed, and most don’t choose hungry mates. In fact, most males who fall prey to their partners are trapped in a laboratory environment and can’t escape.

Female black widow spider guarding an egg case

Black Widow Spider Habitat

Widow spiders crawl around every continent except Antarctica. They’re particularly abundant in North America, especially in Canada’s wine country, the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

Typically, black widow spiders spin webs near the ground or in dark, low places. Inside, you’ll most likely find them in dark corners under desks, basements, and attics. Outside, they hunker in holes and wood piles.

Black Widow Spider Diet

What do black widow spiders eat? They prey on small insects like flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppersbeetles, and caterpillars.

How do black widows catch food? Like most other spider species, black widows weave sticky webs of silken fibers. When waiting for food to stumble into their lairs, widow spiders hang upside in the middle of their nets. When a victim crashes in, they’re incapacitated by the web’s stickiness. At that point, the spider converges, paralyzes the prey with venom, and then wraps its meal in silk to further prevent escape.

When a black widow is ready to dine, it covers its prey in erosive digestive juices and slurps up the remains. If a widow senses danger, it will quickly crawl down a loose web thread and scurry to safety.

Black Widow Spider Predators and Threats

Few animals prey on black widow spiders because of the insects’ body shapes and markings, which scientists believe send unpleasant signals that repel most animals.

But rules come with exceptions, and in this case, the three are praying mantises (Mantodea), alligator lizards (Anguidae), and blue mud wasps (Chalybion californicum), which use their stingers to paralyze before chowing down.

Humans also pose a threat to black widow spiders because we accidentally crush them and purposefully kill them when stumbling upon the species at home.

Black Widow Spider Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Widow spiders are solitary animals that only come together in late spring for mating season. During the yearly ritual, males and females partner up, and the former injects the latter with sperm. The ladies then fertilize their eggs internally and lay silken egg sacs.

The sac incubates for about 30 days, at which point a pod of self-sufficient spiderlings hatch. The moment they’re born, baby spiders scurry away from the nest. The wind often helps them along, and most find themselves far away from home within hours of birth.

But a black widow’s life isn’t long. Many die before they reach a month old, and few — mostly females — make it to three years old.

Black Widow Spider Population

Black widow spiders aren’t in danger currently. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature doesn’t even include the animal on its Red List. IUCN does list false widow spiders, but only under the Data Deficient section.

Black Widow Spiders In U.S Zoos

Black widow spiders live in hundreds of exhibits and labs around the world. Here’s a partial list of U.S. zoos that care for individuals from the genus:

  1. St. Louis Zoo
  2. Oakland Zoo
  3. San Francisco Zoo and Gardens
  4. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  5. Navajo Zoo

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