The Most Poisonous Pests in Michigan

Northern Black Widow close-up

Animal poison tends to be as provocative as it is scary. Somebody asks us about poison almost every single day. Usually by asking “is that thing poisonous?!” The answer is almost always “no…” almost always. There are several poisonous animals and pests in Michigan. Some of them are even highly poisonous.

We think one of the reasons why animal venom is so feared is because it’s not very understood. Pest venom isn’t a human killing superweapon. In fact, it’s usually not even really meant for use on humans. Instead, poison is a natural part of some animal adaptations. They use it to hunt, defend themselves, and scare away predators. Here are some examples of the most poisonous pests in Michigan, along with what their poison is specifically. Hopefully, understanding poison a little better will help make it a lot less scary.

Black Widows in Michigan

The Northern black widow (Latrodectus variolus) is the only venomous spider native to Michigan (Brown recluse spiders are not native). Like other black widows, it’s also one of the most venomous spiders in the country. Widow venom is fifteen times more toxic than rattlesnake venom, though spiders deliver far less in a given bite. In terms of pure potency, widows are probably the most venomous animal in Michigan.

All Widows possess venom called latrotoxin. Latrotoxins act on presynaptic nerve membranes and can trigger an illness called “latrodectism.” Latrodectism triggers a release of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and GABA. Releasing these neurotransmitters triggers pain, followed by muscle cramps, sweating, nausea, and possible vomiting. Severity and length of symptoms depends on the bite location and how much venom the spider transmitted. Northern black widow bites are very rare. Even when they do occur, the spiders rarely administer venom to humans.

paper wasps

Paper Wasps in Michigan

People tend not to think of wasps as “poisonous,” but their venom is why stings hurt! The most venomous wasp in Michigan is also our most common: the European paper wasp (Polistes dominula). As the name implies, the European paper wasp isn’t native to Michigan. Paper wasps first came to America in 1981 and spread quickly by hijacked native wasp’s nests for themselves. Today, paper wasps have established themselves as an invasive species in Michigan. It’s may not be native, but it’s here to stay.

Paper wasp venom is painful because it targets the nervous system on a cellular level. Enzymes and proteins in the venom break down cell membranes when introduced into the bloodstream. When neuron cells break down, they send a signal that they’re damaged–pain–to the brain. Wasp stings also deliver norepinephrine, which stops blood flow to prevent the venom’s potency from deluding in the bloodstream. Finally, they introduce hyaluronidase and MCDP to spread venom further around the site of the sting.

Eastern American Toads

Eastern American and Fowler’s Toads

Believe it or not, Eastern American (A. a. americanus) and Fowler’s (Anaxyrus fowleri) toads are among the most poisonous animals in Michigan. Toad venom is primarily defensive in nature. These toads possess venom-producing “Parotoid Glands” right behind their heads. These glands secrete a chemical steroidal venom called Bufotoxin onto the toad’s body as a predation deterrent. Bufotoxin looks like a milky white liquid film that coats the toad’s skin. If toads look wet, they might be secreting their toxin!

Bufotoxin is more deadly to small predators than it is to people. When ingested, Bufotoxins can trigger serious cardiac, neurological, and gastrointestinal problems. Eventually, Bufotoxin can even target the central nervous system and cause heart attacks or seizure. When merely handled, however, Bufotoxin usually only causes a mild skin rash or allergic reaction. Bufotoxin may also irritate eyes and mucous membranes on contact. Don’t let your pets chase, kill, or eat the little toads in your yard!  

eastern massasauga snake

Eastern Massasauga Rattle Snake

The Eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) is the only venomous snake in Michigan. Massasauga are capable of injecting a highly toxic venom through their bites. In fact, massasauga venom is considered more potent than most other rattlesnake venom. Like black widow spiders, however, massasaugas generally inject less venom during a bite than most snakes. Venom is a valuable resource for rattlesnakes, and its resource-intensive to reproduce. Consequently, most massasauga bites are “dry bites,” which contain no venom.

Eastern massasauga venom contains a specialized digestive enzyme. When this enzyme enters the bloodstream, it disrupts blood flow and prevents blood clotting. When venom is injected into the smaller prey massasauga feed on, it causes fatal internal bleeding. It can also incapacitate prey and destroy tissue. Massasauga venom is not fatal to humans, but it can be extremely harmful. Fortunately, massasauga bites are rare. Massasaugas are highly cautious, even shy or docile snakes. They would avoid rather avoid or run from a conflict than lash out.

 

As you can see, venomous pests use their venom for hunting small prey and defending themselves. None of Michigan’s pests are going to go out of their way to poison you; just the opposite, in fact. As always, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of venomous pests, but you shouldn’t have to fear them.

Of course, that’s easier said than done… especially if poisonous pests are around your home. If you’re worried you have a potentially-precarious pest predicament, give Griffin a call right away. We have everything we need to keep you safe from Michigan’s most poisonous pests.

What You Should Know About the Black Widow in Michigan

Black widow on web

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?

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.

Black widows are considered the most venomous spider in North America

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.