The Umstead Coalition 

Celebrating Umstead State Park since 1934!

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The Black Widow

12/17/2019 10:11 AM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

I went to my mom’s house for Thanksgiving in South Carolina, and when I put my dog in the backyard, I turned over a metal pail to use as a water bowl.  My fingers were a good 8 inches away from the Black Widow, but it still caused a visceral reaction due to a horrific story I have carried since childhood of my Uncle Archie being bitten in the gonads while in the outhouse.  I think about it every time I go by the outhouse at Youth Tent Camp.

Taken by itself, the black widow female is a beautiful spider.  The black part is so dark in fact that it seems like a menacing, though slightly gleaming, little black hole.  I guess what I am trying to say is that there is a dark night of the soul, and then there is the black widow female dark night of the soul.  And then when you are getting pulled into that blackness, the vivid red hourglass appears to repulse and push you away. 

On a fun note, Gary Larson of Far Side Comics fame,  penned the Spider Personals where you see ad after hilarious ad of Black Widow female personals trying to get a mate.  Black Widows are not the only spiders, or insects for that matter, to eat their mate after sealing the deal.  Though this does not happen all the time, it occurs frequently.  I have often wondered how many human males would still proceed knowing they may be devoured afterwards. 

Nowadays, the black widow can be found under rocks, boards, stonewalls, water and electric meters, garages, crawl spaces and other dark and damp areas.  They can inhabit closets and live under appliances, furniture and even seldom worn shoes.  The best way to not get bitten is to stay alert and wear gloves if you are frolicking about in such places.  If you see one and want it to die, then spray insecticide on it and the problem will be solved.  You can even spot treat an area if you worry about an infestation.  However, please know that black widows in general are the poster children of minding their own business.

If by chance you are bitten, then you may be in for a rough couple of days.  Pain may last for eight to twelve hours and the other symptoms may continue for days.  The best plan is to get to a medical facility, especially for younger kids and pregnant women.  There is antivenin available now for this bite, and doctors will determine if you need it.  There are possible side effects from the antivenin.

One arachnologist, W.J. Baerg, in an inspired attempt to further scientific knowledge, coerced a black widow bite him in 1922.  His account was documented by Paul Hillyard, the “spider guy” at London Natural History Museum and it reads, “The pain at first was faint but very soon began to increase into a sharp piercing sensation.  In less than one hour the pain had reached the shoulder and within two hours the chest was affected; the diaphragm seemed partially paralyzed, breathing and speech became spasmodic.  After 5 hours, the pain extended to the legs and after 9 hours I was taken to a hospital.  A severe nausea and excruciating pain not only kept me awake but kept me moving throughout the night.  I left the hospital after three days but found that recovery was not complete; a feeling of wretchedness remained for a couple of days.”

Know more to see more,

Ranger Billy

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The Umstead Coalition

We are dedicated to preserving the natural integrity of William B. Umstead State Park and the Richland Creek Corridor.