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The Brown Widow Spider -- What You Need to Know

Spiderlings Hatching

What is the Brown Widow Spider?

You've probably heard of the black widow spider, and you probably know that the bite from one of these spiders can kill you. The brown widow spider, Latrodectus geometricus, is an arachnid closely related to the deadly black widow, Latrodectus macrons. And the brown widow is showing up in places where no one expects.

The brown widow's range was previously limited to the southeastern United States, but in recent years it has been turning up in the western states as well. In these areas, it may be replacing the black widow as the predominant widow species. The reason this matters is that brown widows are more inclined to spin their webs in places humans congregate, especially under outdoor furniture and around barbecues. And while the bite if the brown widow won't kill you, it's still in the Latrodectus genus, meaning its venom affects humans and other mammals. So while the bite of the brown widow is somewhat less toxic than the black widow, both spiders are known to be poisonous. Like other stinging or poisonous insects, the brown widow is more of a nuisance than a life-or-death situation. But you still want to avoid it!

Is The Brown Widow Poisonous?

The short answer is "yes." But it's not as poisonous as the black widow spider, to which it is closely related, and reported bites are less severe. Brown widows are also less aggressive and more likely to retreat and guard their eggs. Still, if you have a large number of brown widow nests around your house, especially in high-traffic areas like yard furniture and kids' toys, then you should take steps to control them. There's always a chance that someone may put their hand into a dark corner and come away with a bite.

Brown Widows on Children's Toys? Yikes!

Yes, that is a bad situation, and if you have large outdoor toys that haven't been used in a while, and you live in California or Florida, you'd be well advised to check them top to bottom for lurking brown widows. 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 in their webs, 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, may have taken up residence in your toys or outside furniture.

Brown Widows Also Like Porch Furniture

The Brown Widow Spider in California

The brown widow spider is a poisonous species currently replacing the black widow as the most common "widow" species in California and other parts of the country.

Population Explosion

According to a recent article in The Journal of Medical Entomology, the brown widow spider's California population explosion may result in the displacement of the more-familiar black widow. The brown widow was first discovered in Florida in 1935. It turned up in California in 2003, a startling range expansion that suggests the spider is thriving in the recent warm weather. Recent searches for black widow spiders turned up more brown widows than black widows, leading researchers to suspect that the black widow may be on the run. The implications for humans are unclear, but this may be one more example of climate change altering the distribution of species.

Brown Widow Spider Identification Guide

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How To Identify the Brown Widow

The brown widow is a medium to large spider with various shades of brown on its body. There is s general striped pattern on the dorsal (top) side, and brown mottling on the ventral side. It often has red markings on the ventral side, although this is a less reliable characteristic than the bright red hourglass mark typical of the black widow. Like all spiders, the brown widow has eight legs. Widow spiders spin tangled, sprawling webs in dark corners and under lawn furniture.

Researchers Surprised by Brown Widow Surge

According to researcher Richard Vetter of the University of California Riverside, the brown widow was found in surprisingly large numbers during an assessment of the population of the more familiar black widow spider. What surprised researchers most was the fact that the brown widow had begun replacing the black widow in many places. In addition, the brown widow tends to live in areas where human contact is more likely -- under lawn furniture, for example. And even though it is less toxic than the black widow, the brown widow and virtually all Latrodectus species of spider have potent venom.

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

Black Widow Showing the Red Hourglass

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The Brown Widow Versus the Black Widow

Compared to the poisonous black widow, the brown widow is less distinctly marked. The black widow is typically black or very dark brown, with a sharply-defined red hourglass or similar marking on the underside. The brown widow's coloring is less sharp and clear, though there is usually a red shape on the underside. The poison of the black widow is more toxic to humans, though the brown widow, like all spiders, is poisonous to an extent. In terms of habitat, the brown widow likes to spin its tangled, "messy" web under ledges and in crevices, though it will set up shop in areas where humans are present, such as garages, back patios, and so on.

Can You Pass This Brown Widow Spider Quiz?

What To Do If You Are Worried About a Brown Widow Spider Infestation

First, you need to make sure you actually have a problem -- if you live in California, check under your outdoor furniture, inside hiding places like buckets and flowerpots, and in the corners of your garage, high and low. You will see a lot of spiders, but NOT EVERY BROWN SPIDER YOU SEE IS A BROWN WIDOW! I can't emphasize this enough -- spiders in general are very good to have around, and if you kill all the spiders you find, the only thing you'll accomplish is increasing the number of flies and mosquitoes and cockroaches around your house. Spiders eat bad bugs, so spiders are really good bugs!

If you find an animal you think is a brown widow, take a few good pictures of it -- with flash! -- and post it to one of the many insect sites on the web. Some extermination sites have quality pest identification guides that provide photos for you to compare your spider to. If you're really adventurous, you can try to capture a specimen of the spider -- living or dead -- and take it or send it to a museum or agricultural extension office. They'll be able to tell you what you're dealing with, and you'll also be doing your community a favor by alerting it to the presence of the spider.


Spiders in a Sticky Trap

Brown Widow Vs Ants

If You're Sure It's a Brown Widow...

If you are SURE it's a dangerous spider, ask yourself -- can we just live and let live? Brown widow spiders stay in their webs, so if it's in an out-of-the-way corner, you should probably leave it be. But if you're truly worried that you or a loved one might come into contact with the spider, then you may use a commercial insecticide (a little web research will help you choose). A quick spray will kill the spider. DO NOT just spray the stuff around your property! The only insects you'll really hurt are the ones who eat the bad bugs for you.

If you find a LOT of brown widow spiders around your house, then it's probably time to call a professional. Again, web resources are very helpful for finding help with your spider problem.

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Comments 7 comments

krillco profile image

krillco 4 years ago from Hollidaysburg, PA

Cool article. Voted 'up'!


SamiSwan profile image

SamiSwan 4 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!


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 4 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.


BeyondMax profile image

BeyondMax 4 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!


Christine 4 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


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 3 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!)


surfgatinho profile image

surfgatinho 3 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...

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