When it comes to animals that are feared, spiders are easily one of the most well-known. Need proof? Then say the word “spider.” We guarantee that word alone is enough to conjure a mental image of the creepy crawlies. Unfortunately, this shouldn’t be their reputation at all. The truth is, spiders help control pest populations and are quite important in the ecosystems they are a part of. Besides, while nearly every spider produces venom or injected toxin, only a few of them can cause discomfort or harm humans. Additionally, studies have shown only a few out of the 34,000 known spider species worldwide pose any form of threat to us. For example, there are only five species in Alabama that can be harmful:
- The Chilean recluse
- The brown recluse
- The northern black widow
- The black widow
- The Mediterranean recluse
Despite this, however, staying safe should still be a priority. In order to do so, we highly recommend that homeowners learn to identify these spiders, avoid their bites, and stop them from living near their houses. It’s also quite advisable to know some safety precautions to prevent them from living nearby or controlling their population if they appear around your home.
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From the genus Latrodectus, widow spiders are among the most well-known spiders and are so-called because, after mating, females usually eat the males on occasion. There are two types of these in Alabama – the northern black widow and the southern black widow. While these two species resemble each other a lot, widow spiders are generally easy to distinguish from other harmless spiders.
Furthermore, it’s also easy to distinguish male from female ones, as the latter has long legs and globe-shaped abdomens.
In the order Araneae (spiders), widow spider venom classifies as a neurotoxin, as it affects the nervous system and is known to be one of the most toxic kinds. Thankfully, while a few male widow spider bite reports, only females are considered dangerous and pose a real threat to us humans.
Also known as the fiddle-back spider, the brown recluse is another common Alabama inhabitant. Often found either in clusters of individuals or groups, these spiders measure ⅜ inches in length.
In order to distinguish these spiders between more harmless species of arachnids, the key is to look at the eye pattern. While spiders usually have eight eyes arranged in two rows of four, recluse spiders have their six eyes arranged in three pairs. One of these pairs is located over the mouthparts, while the remaining ones can be seen diagonally slanted on either side of the first pair. However, it can be hard to see this pattern without the help of a magnifying glass.
Furthermore, its abdomen is also not as long as that of a widow spider’s. And while it has long legs, they’re spineless, and its abdomen lacks any pattern, recognizable or otherwise.
Its venom classifies as cytotoxic, which means that it can cause necrosis (death of body tissue) at the bite area. There are also kidney failure reports associated with their bites.
How Can You Tell If You’ve Been Bitten?
While not at all a common occurrence (especially if you take precautions), it’s still important to learn how to identify the species that bit you, which you can tell via the symptoms that appear afterward. However, while this list is meant to help you identify the spider that gave the bite, it’s not a test to indicate whether a person needs medical help or not. As such, anyone who believes a spider has bitten them should seek medical help as soon as possible. Furthermore, while most widow and recluse spider bites are not fatal, individuals can still react differently to it, meaning it can pose a significant threat to some and none at all to others.
As for symptoms, widow spider bites differ greatly from recluse bites. For some, getting bit by a black widow is painful, but the initial bite itself can easily be missed. In fact, it’s common for people only to realize they’ve been bitten by one until later. However, within 10-60 minutes of a bite, a person may start experiencing symptoms like sweating, rigidity, muscle pain, nausea, and difficulty in breathing. In some cases, more severe symptoms may occur. Either way, anyone experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms above should get medical help as soon as possible, especially if they’re young or elderly, as these age groups get affected the greatest.
While deaths from spider widow bites are rare, recovery time can still be expensive, and that’s on top of the severe symptoms that are either convenient or outright painful to deal with.
As for recluse bite sensitivity, it varies. Some people don’t react at all to the venom, while some get affected severely. When bitten, recluse bites usually start with an initial blister. Furthermore, these bites can either be painful or otherwise, with symptoms developing within the next 2 to 8 hours. Unlike a widow spider’s bite, symptoms are local to the bite and usually include blistering, swelling, stinging, and burning. However, other symptoms like tissue death, a bull’s eye pattern, and deep, crusty sores are likely to occur. Recluse bites are also slow to heal and leave behind scars. However, those more sensitive to venom can experience more serious reactions. Typically, these include young, elderly, and physically challenged people.
How to Keep Yourself Safe from Spider Bites
When it comes to avoiding spider bites from these species, the best way to do so is to recognize where they’re usually found and to avoid such places. As they are spiders, both kinds can be found in natural habitats like rocks, stumps, leaf litter/piles, under logs, and even under tree bark. However, they can also be found frequently around human dwellings. Furthermore, widow spiders and recluse spiders prefer different hiding spots, which will be discussed shortly.
Widow spiders usually pick areas where they are less likely to be disturbed, as they make three-dimensional webs. Examples include cement blocks, water meter boxes, eaves, garages, sheds, exterior faucets, trash piles, abandoned buildings, jars, and tin cans, and even equipment like lawnmowers or tractors. However, it’s rare to find widow spiders inside their homes. They also tend to bite when threatened, even though they’re not known to be aggressive.
To avoid getting bitten by one, make sure you:
- Never place fingers or toes in places you can’t see.
- Make sure you wear leather gloves while outdoors.
- Use a flashlight if you have to work somewhere dark.
- Before wearing things like gloves, jackets, or boots, make sure they’re clean and free from spiders first.
- Make areas in your house like closets, basements, attics, etc., less attractive to spiders by decluttering them and keeping them clean.
Unlike widow spiders, recluses can live indoors easily; as such, they can be found inside closets, drawers, under furniture, behind framed pictures, and storage areas like basements and attics. Barns and sheds are also commonplace to find them in. However, while widow spiders stay near their webs as they build them, recluse spiders tend to wander more frequently. Because of this, it’s common to find recluse spiders in coats, clothes, shoes, and even bedding or linens.
To avoid getting bitten by a recluse spider, keep the following in mind:
- Keep fingers and toes away from places where you can’t see them.
- Reduce cluttered boxes and clean any you have.
- Inspect clothing for spiders before you wear them.
However, if you suspect that there are recluse spiders around, remember these tips:
- Before wearing stored clothes, please give them a good run through the dryer/washer.
- Don’t wear clothes that you picked up from the floor.
- Check your bed thoroughly before sleeping at night.
- Keep any bedding from hanging and reaching the floor.
If a person encounters any of these spiders in their natural habitat, leaving them alone is the best course of action. However, if one of them is found in a human environment, killing them by crushing them under a closed shoe or anything else you can use is advisable.
With that in mind, prevention is still far better than cure, and so eliminating suitable habitats is the best way to prevent or control their population. The simplest way to do this is by reducing clutter inboxes, unpacking boxes, cleaning store equipment, and removing excess containers. If storage containers are needed, switch to plastic boxes with lids instead, as they are much more safe and secure. You may also reduce habitat suitability for widows by removing bricks, concrete blocks, removing water meter boxes, and removing piles of wood. In addition, you can also reduce insect prey by changing your exterior lights to yellow or floodlights, which can then reduce spider populations.
On the off-chance a person suspects that he or she may have a population of either of these spiders around the house or nearby, there are several control options that can be easily bought from stores. Each of these, like sprays, has some success, given that the chemicals make immediate direct contact with the spiders. However, reducing clutter is still more effective, as it’s not a temporary but permanent solution. Additionally, pesticides usually make spiders more active, and if they don’t get killed, they usually move to more secure areas, making them harder to find. If this happens, professional exterminators may be needed. As for traps, sticky pads work well on recluses and can be used to monitor how successful a treatment is.
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Many of our spiders are some of the most dangerous spiders in the world. But while spiders, especially ones like widows and recluses, are hard to appreciate, they still act as important parts of their ecosystems at the end of the day, such as helping control pest populations. And while widow and recluse spiders can pose some threat, learning to identify their species can go a long way in making sure that you are safe and bite-free. Furthermore, following a few simple precautions can also reduce the risk of being bitten in the first place. Populations of these unwanted spiders can also be naturally controlled by simply making them less attractive and habitable to the creepy crawlies. In fact, this last one is often the most effective and safest control measure, both for you and the spiders.
Other Spiders Commonly found in Alabama:
Araneus marmoreus, or the marbled orb weaver
Because of this spider’s colorful abdomen, it’s also known as the “pumpkin spider.”
Gasteracantha cancriformis, or the orb-weaver
Spiny and crab-like, this common Alabama spider is known to build orb webs in suburban gardens and/or forest edges. A skull-like marking on their abdomen characterizes these spiders, making them easily recognizable.
Orb-weaver spiders have a tremendous color range, and you can find black ones with white, yellow, and orange markings in Alabama.
Trichonephilia clavipes, the golden orb-weaver
Here are a few fun facts about this giant creepy-crawly:
Some fun facts about this giant spider:
- Per Hataway, not only is this spider’s silk yellow, but it’s also stronger than steel by a factor of eight.
- The body-size disparity is so large between the males and females that it’s counted as sexual dimorphism. This is because while female bodies (without legs) are around two inches, male bodies only measure 5/15 of an inch. Ouch.
- You are more likely to see a large distribution of these spiders in places with higher temperatures.
Dolomedes, the fishing spiders’ genus
The dolomedes triton is another Alabama-native arachnid. Known as fishing spiders, these ones can dive into the water for as deep as seven inches. In addition, special hairs on their legs also allow them to “walk” on the water in order to hunt.
Argiope aurantia (what?!?), the common black and yellow garden spider
When it comes to these spiders, the easiest way to tell is by the “zipper” that you can find on the web. So if you see a big web that looks like it has writing starting from the center going down, a shared garden spider probably made it.