What You Need to Know About the Brown Widow Spider

Updated on June 21, 2018
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I'm a life-long naturalist and citizen scientist with a deep and abiding curiosity about the natural world.

A brown widow spider in its web.
A brown widow spider in its web. | Source

What Is the Brown Widow Spider?

The brown widow spider (Latrodectus geometricus), also known as the brown button spider, grey widow, brown black widow, house button spider, or geometric button spider, is an arachnid closely related to the deadly black widow (Latrodectus macrons).

What Does the Brown Widow Spider Look Like?

The brown widow is a medium to large spider that is slightly smaller than its cousin, the black widow. Its coloration ranges, but it is usually either dark grey, brown, or black. There is a general striped pattern on the legs and dorsal (top) side, and brown mottling on the ventral (bottom) side. Like the black widow, it often has an hourglass figure on its abdomen. However, instead of this marking being red, it is usually a vivid orange or yellowish.

If you cannot identify a this spider by its markings alone, another method is to look for its distinctive egg sac. This spider floats its egg sac in a network of webs. The sac resembles a sandspur, having brown coloration and pointed projections on its surface. The egg sacs are often described as being "tufted," "fluffy," or "spiky" in appearance.

When it comes this spider's the web, it does not make funnel webs or symmetrical webs. Like other widows, the brown widow spins tangled, messy webs in dark spaces and corners.

Where Does the Brown Widow Spider Live?

The brown widow spider is a native to South Africa and was first discovered in the United States in 1935. In the U.S., the brown widow's distribution was previously limited to the southeastern states, but in recent years it has turned up in western states as well, particularly in southern California. Below is a list of states where you can expect to find these spiders:

Alabama
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Louisiana
Mississippi
Nevada
New Mexico
Oklahoma
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas

In southern California, a place which is characterized by the tropical and subtropical climates that brown widows love, the newly arrived spider may be displacing black widows. A 2012 study conducted by the University of California, Riverside suggests that the brown widow is likely more hostile toward the black widow than the black widow is to it. If true, humans are in luck, since this spider, while no less venomous, injects less venom into its prey than the black widow.

If you live in any of the states where these widows reside, it's important to know where they like to spin their webs in order to avoid bumping into one. Since they like dark recesses, they will most likely settle in the following places:

  • Dark corners and high shelves
  • Outhouses and sheds
  • Outdoor furniture
  • Potted plants
  • Stationary garbage cans
  • Old clothes, towels, linens, and shoes

If you must reach into one of these places, wear gloves and/or thoroughly clean the area using a vacuum or broom.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A brown widow and her egg sac.Side view of the brown widow. A brown widow's egg sac.
A brown widow and her egg sac.
A brown widow and her egg sac.
Side view of the brown widow.
Side view of the brown widow. | Source
A brown widow's egg sac.
A brown widow's egg sac. | Source

Is the Brown Widow Poisonous?

The short answer is yes, the adult female brown widow is poisonous, while the adult male is not. In fact, the female is just as poisonous as the female black widow. However, being less aggressive than black widows, they are less apt to bite humans. If they do decide to bite (which happens most often when they are protecting their egg sac), they release a smaller dose of toxins than black widows, making them less dangerous.

How Bad Is a Brown Widow Bite?

Compared to a black widow bite, a brown widow bite is not very severe. In fact, Chris Conlan, supervising vector ecologist from the County Department of Environmental Health (DEH), has said they are relatively harmless. Still, Conlan said, people who have been bitten should see a doctor to be sure they are safe.

Can You Feel a Brown Widow Bite?

Yes. Brown widow bites, while not severe, hurt. You will be painfully aware of the fact that a brown widow has sunk its fangs into your skin, but you should consider yourself fortunate that it was not a more deadly spider.

Even though this spider is not as dangerous as other spiders, if you have a large number of brown widow nests in or around your house (especially in high-traffic areas like within yard furniture and your kids' toys), you should take steps to control them.

What Are the Symptoms of a Brown Widow Bite?

The symptoms of a brown widow bite varies from person to person. Another factor is the amount of time the spider's venom has been allowed to travel through the body. Despite your symptoms, if you have been bitten by a venomous insect, whether it was a widow or not, you should see a doctor. Below are the most common symptoms of a brown widow bite:

Symptom
Description
Localized pain and redness
The two main effects of a brown widow bite are pain and redness at the site of the skin puncture. The pain may be very severe and long-lasting.
Radiating pain and redness
Hours after the bite, one may feel pain and observe redness in areas beyond the site of the bite. This is caused by the spread of toxins throughout the bloodstream.
Headache and nausea
Other side effects caused by venom in the bloodstream are headaches and nausea. Hours after receiving a bite, one may experience vomiting and cramps.
Muscle spasms
After receiving a brown widow bite, one may experience involuntary muscle cramps or increased rigidity of the muscles.
Brown Widow vs. Ants
Brown Widow vs. Ants

How to Get Rid of Brown Widows in Your Home

Before you can begin to remove a brown widow infestation from your home, you must know where the spiders like to settle down. Aside from the aforementioned locations, such as dark recesses, high shelves, old clothing, etc., they also like to hide in toys and play structures that are not frequently used, putting your children at risk.

A simply spray-down with a hose will clear out all kinds of spiders and bugs, including brown widows and other spiders. These arachnids are not aggressive and will typically try to run or hide when disturbed, but it's better to be safe than sorry. A good spray or cleaning also reduces the chance that other unwelcome spiders and insects, including wasps, will take up residence in your home.

While checking around your home for spiders, keep in mind that not every brown spider you see is a brown widow. Most spiders are very good to have around. They balance the natural ecosystem in and around your home, and do not usually pose any threat. If you kill every spider you see, you will simply increase the number of flies, mosquitos, and cockroaches in the area.

If you find a spider and are sure its a brown widow, ask yourself, "Can we just live and let live?" These spiders stay in their webs, so if it's in an out-of-the-way corner, it would be kind of you to let it be. But if you're truly worried that you or a loved one might come into contact with the spider, use a commercial insecticide to kill the spider. Do not liberally spray the stuff around your property, though. By doing this, you will mainly hurt the bugs that are performing natural pest control around your home.

That being said, if you find a large number of brown widow spiders around your house, then it may be time to call a professional.

Contribute to Science and the Community

If you find an insect you think is a brown widow, take a few good pictures of it and post it to one of the many insect sites on the web. You may be able to find more information about what you're dealing with, and you'll be doing your community a favor by alerting it to the presence of the spider.

What Happens When a Brown Widow and a Black Widow Meet?

Can You Pass This Brown Widow Spider Quiz?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2012 FCM

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      • profile image

        Jeff 2 weeks ago

        Brown widows are actually really cool spiders. Their venom is actually stronger than a black widow's venom, they just use much less at a time. I had a major infestation in my house a few years ago, but they went away once I removed the food source( dog was hoarding biscuits, attracted bugs). They never bothered me at all, and made decorating for Halloween much easier.

      • profile image

        haydee 4 weeks ago

        For the first time I saw in my

        Bedroom on the carpet

        A huge brown spider

        When I woke away it disappear

        I am so scared I start spraying

        White Vinegar like crazy

        And then I did not see it any more

        I don't know where is

        Or the Vinegar killed

        I am very very scared

        The size I never seen

      • profile image

        Bruce 2 months ago

        University of Gainsville said the Brown window is more toxic than the Black widow but Timid.

      • profile image

        Eric W 7 months ago

        What time of year do Brown Widow eggs produce offspring?

      • profile image

        Ava 8 months ago

        This helps a lot

      • profile image

        Diane F. 9 months ago

        Agreed on what M. Harter said. The egg sacs are easily identifiable, pea sized spiky cream colored sacs. I'm in Southern California and have tons of brown widows in the backyard that I'm trying to keep under control, but they certainly don't bother me as much as black widows. It seems they have pretty much replaced the black widow. I haven't seen a black widow in a couple of years, but have a large number of brown widows. They like to hang out around our grills, garden hose, patio furniture, well pretty much anywhere where they are hidden.

      • profile image

        M. Harter 11 months ago

        I'm a little surprised that there was no mention of the egg. Black Widow egg has a smooth round shape to it. Brown Widow egg is spiked, like a punk rocker. Very different looks and a sure indicator of which type of widow is spinning that chaotic web. As a lifetime Southern Californian (63 years) it seems to me that the black widow has been completely replaced by the brown widow...and the brown widow multiplies at a much greater rate. Killed 7 of them this afternoon on the underside of my lawn chairs here in Corona Ca. Spiky eggs gave them away. Been a long time since I've seen a black widow, even in my wood pile.

      • profile image

        11 months ago

        Um there is a spider that is a little bit longer and is black and has some type of thing on its it's abdomen it also has striped legs and they were all close to each other and stayed on there website they are by a huge tree and a bush what is it?

      • profile image

        John Pitsley 11 months ago

        I know this is being anal, but spiders are not poisonous, they are venomous. It is a distinction that should be noted, especially on a site dedicated to spider information. Again, there is no such thing as a poisonous spider lol.

      • profile image

        Jimmy 15 months ago

        Definitely have brown widows in whittier and surrounding communities. We came back from a 4 day vacation last summer and found over 40 brown widow spiders of various sizes and some of their unique "spikey" looking egg sacks around our home. All of them were sitting in messy webs on the bottom 2-3 ft. of the house or under ledges and in planters or outdoor furniture. At the time there was not much info on them online and some sites were saying that they were more poisonous than the black widow. I don't have a lot of money to pay a professional exterminator. So I sprayed around our house myself. So far we've not seen that big of a population explosion, but we still get 10-15 at a time every few months. I'd like to know how to get rid of them once and for all, especially since just tonight we found one making a web in the main hallway inside our house near my kids rooms. I squished it right away, but not before my wife and I were thoroughly freaked out.

      • profile image

        Malerato 15 months ago

        My family and I found a brown widow spider in our yard, we are in South Africa (Johannesburg), i thought Africa doesnt have widow spiders

      • surfgatinho profile image

        Chris Leather 4 years ago from Cornwall UK

        Voted up! Have just been writing a hub on the 'false widow' spiders (http://surfgatinho.hubpages.com/hub/false-widow-sp... also capable of giving a nasty nip - but not in the same league as the black widow...

      • vespawoolf profile image

        vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

        Wow, I've never heard of the brown widow. We do have many poisonous spiders in Peru so I wonder if they're here as well? I know we have black widows--huge black widows--and very poisonous. I suppose it's positive that the brown widows are less poisonous, although the fact that they frequent traffic areas is a definitive problem. I'll keep my eye out for them. I agree, though, that non-poisonous spiders are good to have around. (especially when it comes to killing off the Indian Meal Moths that live in my kitchen!)

      • profile image

        Christine 5 years ago

        I've had abundance of brown widows (28 by the front steps and door in the last 2 weeks. Eight on the back patio tonight, even though I removed all the webs today) and two black widows. I leave them pretty much alone if they're away from the area's generally frequented. However, they have become a nuisance in places I walk and sit. I hate using pesticides so I use boiling water. Kills them instantly so I don't have to worry about them suffering (people say they don't hurt, but since God made them they must feel pain).

        My method is to sweep cobwebs away and wash area down during the day. A few hours after dark I use a flashlight to look for new webs, note the location and return with a large plastic measuring cup (4 pints) filled with boiling water which I pour directly on the spider. Keep in mind it must be almost slashed on them or else they’ll disappear back into their hiding place.

        This is the most environmentally friendly way I have found. Yes it takes more time and effort than a can of spray but I have a load of lizards, quite a few of bees and wasps, a few butterfly, dragonfly’s and hummingbirds so I don’t want to use toxic substances.

        I’d like to echo Ron Smith’s question as I too have wondered “are they on a lizards menu?”

        Thank you

      • BeyondMax profile image

        BeyondMax 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

        I'm absolutely terrified of spiders but strangely enough, I like to read about them. =) That's an interesting hub, informative and colorful. I liked it a lot!

      • mecheshier profile image

        mecheshier 5 years ago

        Wow. What a Hub. I didn't know there was brown widow. Even in CA, the black widow really isn't that common. Although I did find a scorpion (non-poison variety), it was clear and orange/yellow in color. I grew up in North CA half of my childhood, the other half in WY. Black widows were way more common in WY. I have also spent a lot of time in OR. You do see black widows there. In the summer, especially in the basement where it is cool.

        Thank you for a fabulous Hub. Voted up for interesting.

      • SamiSwan profile image

        SamiSwan 5 years ago from Dallas, TX

        Definitely be careful with spider bites, no matter what kind. The black widow, brown widow, & brown recluse are small critters - they don't seem intimidating. The brown recluse is shy and retiring and doesn't look that dangerous.

        I left the windows down in my VW bug one night; the next morning, I reached up to flip the sun visor down and was shocked when a brown recluse spider tumbled out, landed on my chest, and bit me about half a second before I could squish it. What an awful place for a spider bite! You can't imagine what it's like to have an emergency room physician come in, pat you on the shoulder reassuringly, and say, "Well, thank goodness you have big breasts, eh?" What do you say to THAT? Um, thank you? Two ER doctors told me the venom would dissipate on its own.

        They were apparently thinking of a different universe. It turns out that, in this universe, flesh-eating venom doesn't just disappear all by itself. So if you get bitten by a brown recluse, GO to the hospital and pitch a fit until they call in a specialist who actually knows something about it. I finally went to see my own physician. He used a syringe to physically drawn out that nasty venom, bit by bit, and gave me gobs of antibiotics. I still have the lovely scar on my chest - it looks like I was attacked while saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

        Do be careful about those nasty little spiders. Although some people will tell you they're "part of God's plan," etc., I assure you the sinister little fiends are plotting against us right now!

      • krillco profile image

        William E Krill Jr 5 years ago from Hollidaysburg, PA

        Cool article. Voted 'up'!

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