How Deadly Are Black Widow Spiders?


The black widow spider has certainly gained a reputation for being both elegant and deadly. To the point they are one of the few feared spiders in North America, and have caught imagination as they are found on every continent except Antarctica. These beautiful but “deadly” spiders have been the inspiration for multiple works of fiction, including a popular comic book heroine.

But how deadly are black widow spiders? Are they really that dangerous, or is this just mostly hype?

While black widow bites are going to be extremely painful for many people and may cause severe burning, muscle pain, sweating, abdominal cramps, and even muscle spasms. Generally symptoms are worse for children and elderly versus healthy adults. No deaths have been reported from black widow bites in over 40 years, making black widow bites painful but normally not extremely dangerous.

female black widow spider

How Dangerous Are the Spiders?

The short answer is yes, black widow spiders can be dangerous. However, fatal bites rarely occur, and when the spiders do bite, you will likely feel pain right away.

After being bit, severe pain and muscle cramps can occur within a few hours. Cramps and pain can typically be treated, and in some cases prescription medicine will be required.

Although fatal bites are rare, black widows can still be extremely deadly if they do deliver a fatal bite. This is why they have built the reputation as being the most deadly spider in all of North America.

The reason why black widows can be dangerous is because of the venom they possess. In fact, the venom is more potent than the venom of a rattlesnake.

When Are Black Widows Dangerous?

They are the most dangerous when they are disturbed. In most cases, if a black widow sees a human coming, they’ll scatter. However, if a person stumbles upon a widow and disturbs it, such as if it was hiding under brush, leaves and so forth, then they may bite.

In short, black widows will likely bite if they feel threaten. They can typically be found in piles of brush, wood stacks, in the corners of sheds and garages, as well as inside boots and gardening gloves. Other places include underneath flowerpots and in other types of sheltered places.

They typically won’t come after humans, but if you make them feel threaten, such as trying to squash them, then they might bite.

Are Female Black Widows the Only Dangerous Ones?

There’s a myth that only female widows are deadly, but the truth is all of these spiders can be deadly. They all have glands that contain poison, but venom from male black widows can’t kill humans. Only venom from the female spiders have enough venom to kill a human.

Are Black Widows Aggressive: Will They Bite Unprovoked?

As previously mentioned, black widows rarely attach humans on purpose. They actually aren’t that aggressive, and there was a group of scientists that studied just how aggressive widows are.

The research consisted of poking and prodding the spiders to see what kind of defensive action they would take. The researchers found that the black widows tend to try to avoid confrontation, even if they are poked once.

Furthermore, the spiders might bite if they were poked several times. Another thing the researchers noticed was the black widows would rather spare their venom than use as much as possible when they do bite.

In fact, the researchers found that more than half the time, the bite was dry, which means the spiders didn’t use any venom at all.

The only time the spider launched a violent reaction was when it was squeezed. This means it would take a lot of provoking for a black widow to do a deadly bite. Although their bites can be deadly, the spiders themselves are not that dangerous when they are left alone.

It’s also worth pointing out that in 2013, the National Poison Data Center said around 1,800 Americans were bit by a black widow spider. Over a 1,000 of them never received medical treatment, and the 800 or so that did, only 14 cases were considered to be very serious.

However, not only of them died from being bitten by the spider.

Can Black Widow Bites Be Deadly?

Only a handful of people are at very high risk of dying from a black widow spider bite. This includes the elderly, kids and those with a weaken immune system. Generally speaking, if you are healthy and don’t fall in the high risk categories, then you should be fine if you get bit by a black widow.

However, everyone is different and this means not everyone will have the same experience with black widow bites.

Black Widow Bite Symptoms

Black widows can be dangerous, and this is why it’s a good idea to be aware of what the symptoms of being bit by one are. The main symptoms tend to be severe pain, which may include pain in the stomach and/or the chest. There are several other symptoms one might experience, such as a mild or moderate headache, as well as generalized anxiety.

Cramping muscles is another common symptom. Muscles might also become extremely sore and very tender to touch after being bitten by a black widow.

Some people have described the muscle pain as debilitating, which is one of the reasons the black widow has a reputation as being dangerous.

Numbness, vomiting and nausea are also symptoms. Others include heavy sweating and sensitivity to light. Some people who have been bitten by black widows have reported salivating.

Those are the main symptoms of black widow bites. Generally speaking, symptoms can start to appear within 30-60 minutes of being bit by the spider. Furthermore, not everyone experiences all of these symptoms, and some only exhibit one or a handful of them.

The best thing to do if a person suspects they’ve been bit is to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Protecting Against Black Widows

People can protect themselves against black widows by shaking out their boots, shoes and gardening gloves before they put them on. They should also wear a hat if they enter into areas such as under a deck, corners of garages and sheds, or while they are gardening. The chances are slim that they’ll be bit, but it’s still wise to take precautions.

Treating Black Widow Bites

Although black widows are general not that dangerous when they are left alone, their bites can still cause nasty symptoms. If you get bit by a widow, then you’ll want to treat it. The treatment used for black widow bites depends on what the symptoms are. In general, the most common treatment options for black widow bites are:

  • NSAIDS – Certain painkillers available over-the-counter can be used to treat black widow bite symptoms such as pain, fever and swelling. The medicine can be purchased at various shops. NSAIDS are among the most common medicines used to treat minor symptoms associated with black widow bites.
  • Prescription Painkillers – These are only really given in serious cases. They are formulated to treat severe pain, which black widows can cause if they use a lot of venom when they bite.
  • Muscle Relaxers – As previously mentioned, bites can cause spasms and muscle cramping. Muscle relaxers can reduce cramping and spasms.
  • Anti-Venom – This medicine is typically given in very severe cases. If you’re at high risk, then the doctors might give anti-venom to you. This medicine can either stop or slow down symptoms.

If in doubt, you can contact a medical professional. They’ll let you know what treatment option is the best for the symptoms you’re experiencing. If symptoms are quite severe, then it’s a good idea to seek out medical attention right away.

The bottom line is black widow spiders can be dangerous, but bites that can kill a person are rare.

If anyone thinks they’ve been bit by a black widow spider or they know for a fact they’ve been bit, then they should seek medical treatment right away. This is regardless if they’re experiencing symptoms or not.

Outdoor Shane

There's nothing I love more than the great outdoors, but being big on exploring, traveling, off-grid survival, and having survived venomous spider and snake bites - I'm a firm believer that you can enjoy more of the outdoors by being aware and prepared for the dangers you could find there. Hope you enjoy this site and don't let fear keep you from exploring the natural world!

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