A spider is an invertebrate animal that is a member of the scientific order Araneida or Araneae. Consisting of more than 30,000 diverse species, spiders -- also called arachnids -- are distributed worldwide and include poisonous and nonpoisonous varieties. Currently, West Virginia has only two types of poisonous spiders, which are the brown recluse and black widow spiders. Brown recluse spider bites can be very damaging but generally not deadly; however, black widow spider bites can prove to be fatal if left untreated.
The black widow spider is not a single species but consists of more than 30 species within the genus Latrodectus. The southern black widow or Latrodectus mactans is the most widely known. Black widow spiders are nocturnal and shy. They avoid contact with humans and other animals and socialize only with other black widow spiders during copulation. While black widow spiders are carnivorous and feed off of insects, they rarely eat their males, usually doing so only when near starvation or in captivity.
Black widow spiders generally grow up to one-half inch in length, not including their legs. They are distinguished by a bright red marking on their abdomens that has the appearance of an hour glass. This marking is situated against the background of a jet black body. The black widow spider is considered the most venomous spider in North America. While both males and females are venomous, the female is considered highly dangerous. A female black widow spider's venom is reportedly 15 times stronger than rattlesnake venom.
Symptoms and Treatment for Black Widow Spider Bite
The bite of a black widow spider usually feels as slight as a pin prick; however, the neurotoxic venom can cause dramatic, severe symptoms. Intense pain usually begins at the bite site and spreads throughout the body within several minutes. Vomiting, chills, profuse perspiration, abdominal cramps, spasms, delirium, breathing difficulties and paralysis occur within a few hours after the bite. While the extent of the symptoms varies with each person, bite victims should seek medical care immediately. The mortality rate from black widow spider bites is less than 1 percent, with children and the elderly being at greater risk. However, if left untreated, convulsions, tremors and unconsciousness can occur, followed by death.
Upon diagnosis, doctors usually treat black widow spider bites with a substance called, calcium gluconate and other anti-venom treatments. To prevent infection, antiseptics are commonly applied to the bite.
Brown Recluse Spider
As their name suggests, brown recluse spiders or Loxosceles recluse are timid, rarely bite unless provoked and seek shelter in secluded areas. They are brown, tan or orange-yellow in color and have a body length of one-half inch, not including their legs. They are distinguished by a fiddle-shaped marking situated near their eyes or on other upper body areas. Brown recluse spiders are sometimes called violin or fiddle-back spiders because of this marking. Like black widow spiders, brown recluse spiders are carnivorous and poisonous; however, the symptoms of the brown recluse bite are distinctly different.
Symptoms and Treatment for Brown Recluse Bite
Brown recluse spider bites are usually unnoticed until hours later when the symptoms become obvious. A blister encircled in red is the first symptom to appear. More severe symptoms including nausea, fever, convulsions and weakness occur within a day. While brown recluse spider venom is rarely fatal, when left untreated the blister can evolve into severe tissue damage called necrosis, as well as nerve damage. Also, because the venom causes red blood cells to be destroyed, or hemolyis, other peripheral symptoms can occur, such as a form of anemia. Thus, medical attention is highly recommended.
Doctors generally prescribe treatments such as corticosteroids, antibiotics, tetanus immunizations, antihistamines and pain medications. They also monitor for necrosis during the first 96 hours after the bite. Depending on the severity of the damage, healing can take up to eight weeks. The effects of the spider bite are mitigated by factors such as age and overall health condition.
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Spider
- West Virginia Department of Agriculture: Spiders in West Virginia
- Encyclopedia: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition; Black Widow; 2008
- Orkin Pest Control: Black Widow Facts
- Orkin Pest Control: Brown Recluse Spider Facts
- OK State Univ. Cooperative Extension: "Spiders -Brown Recluse, Black Widow..."; R. Grantham, et al.
- Photo Credit Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images
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