Poison or Pretend?: How to Identify Common Spiders

| 2/10/2016 9:05:00 AM

On one hand, all spiders are venomous. They need venom to subdue and digest their prey. On the other hand, most North American spiders are harmless to people. The two exceptions are the black widow and the brown recluse, but these two have many fairly harmless imitators. If you want to know the difference, read on to learn what to look for.

female black widow 

The Black Widow

This infamous spider is easy to tell apart from just about every other kind. Like all spiders, she has eight legs, but she also has a round abdomen, patent leather black save, and the tell-tale red hourglass on her abdomen. However, only the female black widow is dangerous. The much smaller male is harmless and more timid than the female. And he has every reason to be: During courtship he’s at risk of being eaten by the female. This is why the spider is known as a widow.

Common Imitators

Besides the black widow, there’s the brown widow and the red widow. The brown widow can also be black, but is often brown or gray. She is less likely to bite than the black widow and injects less venom. The red widow has red splotches on the top of her abdomen, as well as the tell-tale hourglass. Another variety of widow is also black, but the hourglass on her abdomen is broken in two. Yet another, the Malmignatte, is black with red streaks on her abdomen, and is found in Mediterranean countries. Widows are found in the warmer places in the world, often around human habitation.

There are several species of spiders that people may mistake for widows. They include the Steatoda, Theridion and Enoplognatha spiders and Dipoena nigra. The females of these spiders all share the round abdomen of the black widow, but lack her red hourglass. They are also far less dangerous.

brown recluse spider 

2/17/2016 11:48:42 PM

I'm terrified of spiders. It's good to be able to tell them apart. Thank you.