There is perhaps no spider as well-known and feared as the Black widow. You’ve probably never seen a Black widow before, but you’d be able to identify one immediately. The spider and its deadly venom loom so large in the collective imagination that they enjoy a near-mythical status. If you see a Black widow in a movie or tv show, you know it’s a bad omen.
Fortunately, however, the Black widow isn’t mythical. It’s not bad luck, a harbinger of evil, or any other creepy stuff like that. It’s just a spider, and like every other spider, it can be understood, anticipated, and controlled. Here’s everything you should know about understanding Black widows in Michigan, including how to keep them away from you.
What is a Black Widow?
Black widow spiders are a type of spider belonging to the Latrodectus genus. There are three species of Black widow spiders in North America. The only one of these three species ever encountered in Michigan is the Northern black widow (Latrodectus variolus). This spider is about 1.5” long and .25” in diameter, making it about the size of a paper clip. They are completely black except for the infamously distinctive red hourglass-shaped marking on their abdomen.
Northern black widows also have a series of red spots along the middle of their abdomens. Some may possess white stripes on their abdomens. Northern black widows tend to build large, expansive webs which they use to catch prey and tend to eggs. They build these webs in low-lying areas near where they can catch insect prey. You may find them around window wells, garages, pools, grills, or wood piles. They tend to be most active between April and October.
Where Did Black Widows Come From?
Black widows are native to the US. The Northern black widow can be found throughout the eastern US. The spider is frequently encountered in Michigan, particularly in the Western lower peninsula and in forested or rural areas. Like other spiders, Black widows gravitate toward any environment where they have a steady source of prey. They build webs in and around areas insects like flies frequent. They’re also attracted to dark, dry areas where they can hide easily.
If you have Black widows near your home, it’s because they’re successfully hunting near you. Spiders like Black widows often build webs near passageways other pests use to enter your home. When smaller pests attempt to access your home for shelter, the Black widow catches and eats them. Black widows may also build webs outside in any shady, sheltered areas where they can catch food. Black widows may occasionally hide in shoes, so be careful if you think you have an infestation.
Why Are Black Widows a Problem?
First, the scary stuff: Black widows are considered the most venomous spider in North America. Black widow venom is reportedly 15 times more potent than a rattlesnake’s (though they can’t administer as much). The neurotoxin that makes up Black widow venom is called “latrotoxin.” Latrotoxin attacks the nervous system, which can be extremely painful. Black widow bites can cause nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal pain, weakness, and more. In extremely rare cases, the bites can be fatal.
Now, to calm you down: Black widow bites are extremely rare. The Black widow is naturally shy and timid–even for a spider. They would always rather retreat and escape than bite a threat. Black widows will only bite if they’re very startled or they feel they have no other choice. Even if they do bite, they often don’t inject their venom. All you usually have to do to avoid Black widow bites is avoiding antagonizing the spiders.
What Can We Do About Black Widows?
Keeping Black widows away from your home means depriving them of the things they want. Black widows want food, shelter, and dry, warm hiding places. Northern black widows will eat pretty much anything small enough to get stuck in their webs. That means flies, mosquitoes, beetles, arthropods like centipedes, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and even other spiders. If you can prevent other pests from getting into your home, you’ll deprive Black widows of their food.
Black widows require warm and dry environments to stay active. They prefer temperatures of 70 degrees or warmer. They’re surprisingly good at seeking out these warm environments, especially when outdoor temperatures begin dropping. Finding and patching up drafts, especially in your basement, will help keep Black widows out. Finally, you should clear the clutter both indoors and outdoors. Black widows seek out shelter to hide and build webs inside. If they find plenty of cover in your yard, they’ll creep ever closer to your home.
Normally, this is where we’d tell you not to be afraid of the pest we just wrote about. Here, we understand what a silly suggestion that is. Black widow spiders are very frightening. Even now that you understand them, you probably can’t shake that fear. But now that you’re armed with this knowledge, you can also do something with that fear.
If you want help keeping Black widows out of your home, give Griffin a call any time. We’ll keep any kinds of spiders away–even the scary ones.