What You Need to Know About the Brown Widow Spider
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:
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.
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:
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.
After receiving a brown widow bite, one may experience involuntary muscle cramps or increased rigidity of the muscles.
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.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I saw what looked like a brown widow at work. It was whitish with black strips, but it was about 4-5 inches. Could it be a large tarantula?
A spider that large is almost certainly some kind of tarantula.Helpful 9
Is there anything I can spray underneath my kids' play structure to prevent spiders from leaving their eggs? I see several spider egg sacs a week.
It's hard to prevent spiders from leaving their eggs. If possible, blast them with a garden hose every few days.Helpful 10
Lesions on my skin lead me to believe that I have been bitten by a brown widow spider. What the treatment for a bite like this? The doctor just gave me some antibiotic cream.
Widow spiders don't really cause a lesion, just general neurological symptoms. Why do you think it's a spider? Most people bring the spider that bit them to their doctor.Helpful 11
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