Poisonous Spiders in North Carolina
Only two poisonous spiders are found in North Carolina. These are:
- Southern black widow (Latrodectus mactans)
- Brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa)
Both of these dangerous spiders can be found across the state, and should be avoided at all costs. In this article, you will learn how to identify these spiders, where to find them, and how to avoid being bitten.
Black Widow vs. Brown Recluse
Southern Black Widow
Black with a red, hourglass-shaped marking on its abdomen
Dark crevices and non-visible areas like high shelves, sheds, and outhouses
Light to dark brown
Outhouses, cardboard boxes, piles of rubbish, and unused clothing or linen
The Southern Black Widow
The southern black widow (Latrodectus mactans) is found across much of the southeastern United States, including North Carolina. The species is native to North America.
What Does the Southern Black Widow Look Like?
The female black widow spider is black with a distinctive red hourglass shape on its abdomen. These spiders spin messy, tangled webs that do not follow any pattern. They usually hang upside down, showing their red marking. After mating, the females are sometimes known to consume their mate. She will also hang her egg sac high in her web and attack anything that tries to interfere with it.
Are Black Widows Poisonous?
Yes, female black widows are poisonous, while males are not. According to National Geographic, black widows are the most poisonous spiders in North America, with venom up to 15 times stronger than that of a rattlesnake.
Is a Black Widow Spider Bite Deadly?
While painful, a black widow bite is seldom deadly if treated immediately. Still, very young children and seniors may be at a higher risk of death if bitten. The most common effects of a black widow bite are:
- Profuse sweating
- Severe pain in the abdomen and back
- Muscle aches
- Difficulty breathing
Are Black Widows Aggressive?
These spiders are not naturally aggressive, and usually only bite when a person mistakenly puts their hand near a black widow's web. Black widows can be easy to provoke if they are protecting an egg sac.
Where Do Black Widows Live?
Black widows can be found both indoors and outdoors. They tend to gravitate towards dark, hard-to-reach places that are not easily visible. The following is a list of the black widow's favorite places to spin a web. Beware when reaching into any of these spots.
- High shelves
- Dark corners
- Clothes, towels, and linens that have not been used for a long time
The Brown Recluse
The brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa), sometimes known as the fiddleback spider, brown fiddler, or violin spider, can found across the south-central and southeastern United States, including North Carolina. It is one of three spiders (the others being the Chilean recluse and the black widow) with medically significant venom found in North America.
What Do Brown Recluses Look Like?
The brown recluse spider can be easily identified from the violin shape on its head that points to its back. It also has six eyes, which is uncommon for a spider. Brown recluses are small, usually only slightly bigger than a penny and almost never larger than a quarter. Their coloration is usually light to medium brown, but they range in color from dark brown to blackish gray. They spin irregular webs that usually contain a built-in shelter.
Are Brown Recluses Poisonous?
The brown recluses is an extremely poisonous spider with necrotic venom. Because its venom is necrotic, the skin around the area of the wound often deteriorates as the skin cells are destroyed. In more serious cases, brown recluse venom can cause systemic complications in the body.
Is a Brown Recluse Bite Deadly?
For the most part, a brown recluse bite is minor with no necrosis (that is, the breaking down of skin cells near the wound). Still, a brown recluse bite can be very serious, and potentially fatal. In more serious cases, a bite can cause lesions created by severe necrosis, or systemic symptoms. In one study, necrosis occurred 37 percent of the time, while necrosis occurred 14 percent of the time.
While most of the time a brown recluse bite results in no symptoms, damage to the skin occurs more often than damage to the bodily system. In a bite that effects only the skin, the symptoms include:
- Pain and itchiness within two to eight hours of being bitten
- Ulcer at the site of the bite caused by necrosis (dying skin tissue)
- Widening of the wound
Brown recluse bites affecting the system are rarer, but more severe, often resulting in death in the very young or elderly. The most common systemic symptoms include:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells)
- Thrombocytopenia (abnormally low levels of thrombocytes)
- Disseminated intravascular coagulation (blood clots)
- Organ damage
Are Brown Recluses Aggressive?
As suggested by its name reclusa or "recluse," this spider is not aggressive. Bites are uncommon, and usually only occur when a person accidentally corners the spider, provoking it and causing it to bite. They are also known to bite if they become tangled in clothes, bedding, or gloves that a person is handling.
To underline the recluse's mild nature, in 2001, more than 2,000 brown recluses were found in a home in Kansas. The four residents, who had lived there for years, were never harmed despite having many encounters with the spiders.
Where Do Brown Recluses Live?
Although both the brown recluse and the black widow can be found indoors, the brown recluse spider is more often found inside North Carolina homes than the black widow. They like to hide in dry, cool, and undisturbed places. Some of their favorite places to make a web are in woodpiles, sheds, closets, garages, plenum spaces, cellars, cardboard boxes, and other places similar to these.
Brown recluses seem to be especially attracted to cardboard, and are often found hiding inside or under the flaps. Use care when going through items that have been stored in cardboard boxes for a while, and, in the future, consider keeping your cardboard boxes in plastic containers. If you must store items in cardboard boxes, then purchase pennyroyal (at a health food store, for example) and sprinkle it in the boxes. This will keep all kinds of spiders, including brown recluses, from settling down in your home. Also, keep your house very clean with nothing stored under beds or on closet floors. This should allow you to keep your house spider-free.
How to Keep Dangerous Spiders Away From Your Home
Below are a few tips and tricks to keep black widows and brown recluses away from your home and family.
- Keep bushes and trees trimmed so that they are not touching your house. Bushes or trees touching your house will help spiders find a way in.
- Keep your gutters clean and seal any cracks or holes.
- Check the screens in your home a couple of times a year to make sure they fit tightly and have no holes.
- Keep the floors of your outbuildings clean, and consider having outbuildings and garages treated for spiders by a pest control company just before the winter. Before the winter season, spiders tend to move indoors for shelter.
- Use a pressure washer and spray down the outside of your home and the inside of your outhouses with a strong insecticide soap.
- Call an exterminator.
- Dust woodpiles with lime. When you make a new woodpile, layer it with lime. Also, make sure to periodically change the location of your woodpile.
Spider Safety Tips
Even after taking preventative measure to keep spiders away from your home, you never know until its too late if a poisonous spider is lurking around the corner. Follow these safety tips to avoid being bitten by a brown recluse or a black widow.
- Spiders like to hide in cardboard boxes, closets, and under beds. Use gloves when going through objects that have been sitting still for a long time.
- Don't reach into dark areas without wearing gloves. If you can't see your fingertips when you reach into a space, wear gloves.
- If you think there could be brown recluse spiders in your house, always shake out shoes or boots that have been sitting for a long time before putting them on. The same thing goes for coats, sweaters, canvas tarps, life jackets, etc.
- If you think you've been bitten by a brown recluse spider or a black widow spider, apply ice or a cold pack to the bite and seek medical attention at once. If you can catch the spider in a jar with a lid, do so. Dead or alive, take it with you to the hospital. Being able to accurately identify the spider will help the doctor when it prescribing treatment.
- Call your poison control center if you think someone has been bitten by a poisonous spider or is having an allergic reaction to a spider bite. The number for the poison control center in North Carolina (and many other places) is 1-800-222-1222.
- If you live in an area where brown recluse spiders and black widow spiders live, you should educate your children about what these spiders look like using pictures.
Other Spiders in North Carolina
Carolina Writing Spider
Writing spiders, or golden orb-weaver spiders, are found all over North Carolina, but these spiders are not harmful to you. In fact, they may help with pest control, since they eat large amounts of bugs each year. I have a large number of these spiders in my yard and garden, and I don't allow anyone to harm them. I also like them because Charlotte, from the children's story Charlotte's Web, was a writing spider.
Carolina Wolf Spider
The Carolina wolf spider is considered to be one of the largest wolf spiders found in North America. Both the top and bottom sides of their bodies are black, and appear furry. While they may look threatening, these spiders are harmless and rarely bite. Their venom is not considered medically significant.
Spruce-Fir Moss Spider
The moss spider is a small, endangered species of spider that lives in the moss that grows on rocks underneath forest canopies. This spider is found mostly at high elevations in the Appalachian Mountains. Its endangered status is the result of deforestation and environmental destruction. There is no proof of the toxicity of this spider's venom.
The jumping spider is a small species with four pairs of eyes. They usually have a dark color and long front legs, though they use their back legs for jumping. The jumping spider is not considered dangerous, and usually flees when it comes into contact with humans.
The funnel weaver is a harmless spider that is related to the much more dangerous hobo spider. These spiders are usually four millimeters in length and have a dark coloration. They are very fast runners and expert web spinners, taking their name from the funnel-shaped webs they spin.
Many other spiders can be found in North Carolina, but these are the most notable.
Fun Spider Facts
- An average person, during their lifetime, will eat seven to ten spiders while they are sleeping.
- One spider egg has as much DNA as is contained in four humans.
- There exists an extremely rare spider in the eastern parts of Africa that is snow white in color but spins black webs.
- No matter where you are living, you are never more than 7-10 feet from a spider.
- Always wash new or used clothing when you purchase it. This is the way that most spiders find their way into your house.
© 2012 Thomas Byers