Black Widow - A Deadly Hour-Glass Figure

By SmartPraani | Animal Kingdom | 2 Feb 2023



The Hour Glass Warning

It is not the Black Widow’s shape which is signified by the hour-glass but a tell-tale mark on its belly which warns others to keep their distance. Black Widows are one of the few venomous spider species which can take down far bigger animals, including humans. But the good news is that there aren’t many reported incidents of Black Widow inflicted fatal deaths.

If we are done with the warning part, it is time to know a lot more about them. Firstly, Black Widow happens to be a common name given to spiders of the Latrodectus genus. Several spiders are belonging to this genus and spread across the Americas and Europe. Many of them can have a distinct hourglass marking in red, white, or brown in color. Their toxin, as we already discussed, is a potent neurotoxin called latrotoxin, which causes latrodectism. Latrodectism, by the way, is signified by symptoms like muscle rigidity, pain, vomiting, and sweating.

Did You Know?
The Black Widow’s toxin, latrotoxin, and ailment, latrodectism, are names derived from its genus — Latrodectus.


The Black Widow

How big do we think that this spider is? Well, it ranges anywhere between 3 to 10 mm. Quite surprising, I would say, for a creature that has venom more potent than a rattlesnake. The males in the species are smaller than the females. The difference in size is about 30 times. I am sure readers wouldn’t have questions on who brings home the bacon in these spiders’ case.

The males of the species have distinct markings, but they are on the upper side against the lower side for the females. Males keep their distance from the females barring their mating time.


The Mating Ritual

Well, here’s how the “widow” name came along for these spider species. The mating ritual at times ends with the female having a snack afterward. Only it is the male on whom the female is snacking. So, right after the mating, the female becomes a widow, on a lighter note.

Reproductive cannibalism is not an event specific to the Black Widow species. The praying mantis also exhibits a similar mating behavior, albeit the chances of the male getting chomped down is a lot higher with the mantis. So, are we saying that the males do escape the much larger Black Widow female? Yes, in fact, studies have shown that males check for the female's mood, whether it has eaten or not, before approaching. A smart move that ensures that most get away alive.


Mama Widow and Its Predators

Now that the papa Widow is out of the way, the female is the one who takes care of the eggs. At any given time, the Black Widow lays about 200 eggs in a single sack. They lay about five such egg-sacks. That would come to around 1000 spiderlings coming out at once. That’s a huge number to ensure the progression of the species.

But why do they need so many offsprings for progression? One would guess that they are quite capable of ensuring their survival even in limited numbers. But the fact is, much like any species, the Black Widow too has predators. The Widow’s territory overlaps that of the giant centipede, the praying mantis, scorpion, and wasps. Each of these makes a quick meal of the widow. Don’t underestimate the widow, though. There have been reports of the Widow preying on these species as well. However, more Widows are losing out to those predators than winning against them.

We need to take a moment to talk about the wasps. The wasps, especially the mud dauber, are not predators per se, but they paralyze the Widows (and other spiders), lay their eggs on them, and bury them in a hole. As the larvae of the wasp hatches, it feeds on the spider, which is still alive. The spider then meets its painful, paralyzed death. So, wasps are not a direct predator, but they capture spiders for their larvae.


Black Widow and Humans

The Black widow punches way above its weight when it comes to its bite. The venom from the spider can potentially kill a human. The bite itself is much like a tiny prick, but what happens after that is the deadliness of the effect sets in. Unlike most other spiders, the Black widow’s toxin impacts the victims’ whole body. As such, quick action is required to stabilize the condition.

As we discussed earlier, there are not many reported cases of Black Widow caused deaths. So, that’s about the good news. But with their spread all across the area they inhabit, it would do well for humans to be careful and stay clear of the widow.

So, that’s ample enough reason to respect a tiny clip sized heavy-weight champion — the Black Widow!

— — -***** — — -

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons And GDJ @

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