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Wild Things: Bite of the Black Widow

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It may have worked in Spider-Man's advantage, but for the most part, you want to avoid being bitten by a spider. The black widow is the most venomous spider in North America and it may be lurking in your backyard! Find out more about this eight-legged predator.

Indentifying the Black Widow

There are three species of black widow spiders and all of them are poisonous. The female black widow is the most poisonous spider in North America, while the male is harmless. You can identify a female black widow by her shiny, black body that has a reddish hourglass shape on the underside of the belly. Her body is approximately the same size as the tip of your baby finger. The male is around half the size of the female and sometimes has a pair of reddish stripes on the side of his body.

The Life Span of the Black Widow

The female black widow makes good of her name and usually makes a meal out of the male after mating. On average, the female black widow will live for about a year and a half.

The Black Widow Habitat

Black widows are found throughout most of the Western Hemisphere - Europe and North America. They can be seen almost anywhere from deserts to trash cans to attics. Generally they spin their webs in warm, dark places.

Attack of the Balck Widow

When feeding, the widow will make small punctures in its victim's body, injecting venom which paralyzes its prey. In addition to venom, the spider injects digestive juices into its prey that decomposes the flesh, making it easier to consume. The spider then sucks out the decomposed, liquid contents from its lifeless victim. Nobody in the US has died from a black widow bite in over 10 years, but it can still be painful if the female does attack. The only time someone might die from a bite is if no medical attention is available.

Treating a Black Widow Bite

The bite itself looks almost like a bullseye - a lighter area surrounded by a red circle. Within the first two hours of being bitten, severe cramps and muscle pain will develop in the stomach. Other symptoms might include weakness, vomiting, sweating and increased blood pressure. Sometimes the spider won't inject any venom and in that case, you won't present any symptoms. The best thing to do if bitten by a black widow is to immediately wash the wound with warm, soapy water. If symptoms do not go away, you should seek medical attention immediately.

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