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Black widow spiders

Good sanitation will keep them away
Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota

I’m not a fan of spiders. I know they’re beneficial to have around, but just the sight of them makes me cringe. If I ever see a black widow, I’ll probably pass out.

Holly Schwarting is an entomology research assistant at Kansas State University. She says black widows are fairly reclusive. They prefer to set up housekeeping in woodpiles, old machinery, and other stuff that hasn’t been disturbed for a long period of time.

"She’s probably about ½” long, she’s all black with a very shiny, very round bulbous abdomen. Generally, we think of the black widow as having the red hourglass figure on the underside of her body," says Schwarting. "However this isn’t always a perfect way of identifying them because that red hourglass can be a nice looking hourglass, it can be a spot, it can range from yellow to red."

The males are much smaller, thinner, and may have white or yellow markings. And their bite is not venomous, unlike the female.

Contrary to horror movies, the black widow is not out to get you. Schwarting says biting is usually a last resort when the spider feels like she’s being threatened.

"The female spins an egg sack and she keeps it in her web. I have seen when females have an egg sack there they do tend to be quite a bit more aggressive because they’re looking to protect their offspring. So in that case, yes, I have seen them kind of charge out at people that are disturbing their web," says Schwarting. "But for the most part, they’re going to try and get away from you as much as possible."

Sanitation is the key to prevent the spider from taking up residency. Don’t let stuff accumulate and go undisturbed for long periods of time.

If you get bit by a black widow, you should see a doctor. However, Schwarting says the bite is rarely fatal.

Learn what's fact and what's fiction with black widow spiders

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