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
Post Your Comments Below.
Coty on July 02, 2018:
As one of the 10 to 15 people in North Carolina who were envenomed by a black widow spider in 2009 I'll let you know its unpleasant but not all that deadly. They give you pain killers and muscle relaxers and observe you over night. They send you home with more pain killers and tell you to take a Tylenol if you still have discomfort. Honestly the pharmacy bill you get from the hospital is worse than the spider bite.
Sandeyts on June 10, 2018:
Don’t kid yourself about brown recluse spiders not being in western North Carolina. I have friends in Statesville & all the way to Brevard...who’ve been bitten by them. The spider bite may not kill, immediately. But I’m down 2 friends who were treated and later died. I believe the toxins left behind from the bite as well as the treatments for them were major contributors to their decline & deaths. Another acquaintance caused the spider to die....
Cody Pearsall Spider Lover on June 07, 2018:
First Brown Recluse is very rare in NC and there is no way a spider will crawl in your mouth while sleeping their too scared of people and the breathing. Second spiders are venomous not poisonous, venom is injected not absorbed so get the facts right next time you make an article about spiders.
martin mocha on April 13, 2018:
It's NOT poisonous spiders or snakes, its VENOMOUS!!! Get it right. Poison is absorbed or ingested, VENOM IS INJECTED via fangs (chelicerae), a stinger or probascus.
FatLoser21 on March 21, 2018:
this was cancer
Daniel on March 20, 2018:
I should mention, the "eating spiders during your sleep" thing isn't true. It was made up. There is no way to scientifically measure that. How many experiments have been carried out over the length of a human life and measured, every night, if/when a spider were ingested? Then there's location- does this "fact" apply to everyone, everywhere on earth?
I love the majority of your article- it convinced me not to be afraid of the Carolina Writing Spiders outside- but please remove this non-fact.
Jessie on March 17, 2018:
First of all, spiders are venomous. Calling them poisonous makes you sound pretty stupid to us that actually know about spiders. Second, like doesn't actually do anything for spiders. It just ruins your lawn. Third, WE DO NOT EAT SPIDERS IN OUR SLEEP! seriously, did you just take fake facts off the internet and stick them in a very informative page? Lastly, most spiders bite. They are not harmless. Do yourself a favor and read up on spiders before posting a publicly wrong post on spiders. Oh, and a majority of the time, depending on the gloves, they can still bite through.
boy on March 07, 2018:
Liked your article
justin on March 01, 2018:
the other day i was working in the yard when i was a spider crawling on my shoulder away from my back, my shirt was low enough so he could bite my back. the spider had long legs and a medium body, it was white/ very light brownish. when i went inside it looked like i had been scratching but i hadnt. the next day i was at tennis practice and i noticed my arm was weak/tired and just wasnt right, a little while into practice i feel this burning sensation in just one spot on my back (where i was already assuming i had been bit). i had my mom and dad look at it and they said it was swollen and is sore, it even hurts when the shower water hits it. someone please let me know what king of spider you think it is
A concerned enthusiast on November 25, 2017:
This article is all kinds of wrong. Spiders are not poisonous, they are venomous. Brown recluses are very rare in North Carolina and are often cases of mistaken identity. All spiders are venomous, just not on dangerous levels. Also, you are not going to eat a spider in your sleep. That's a myth. No spider is going to want to crawl into a person's mouth. They'd be terrified of the movement and breath.
hi on September 27, 2017:
I have a Phobia of spiders
chad roberts on September 19, 2017:
I live in the mountains of nc and i found a red back spider on my pool last night i did kill it with stick is this something we should be considered about at first i did think it was a widow but the markings were wrong .it was shiny black and a brite red strip on the back of the spider.
Dan Sizemore on August 18, 2017:
Well i live in central NC north of Charoltte. Was bitten by a brown recluse and 10 yrs later still have the scars and sunken spot on my left arm to remind me that they are here!!!
Richard Wrenn on August 14, 2017:
Writing spiders may not be poisonous but they will bite the sh!t out of you if you mess with them im speaking from experience trust me!
John on May 24, 2017:
As a medical provider, it is articles like this that perpetuate the lie of the Brown Recluse. First, the spider itself is not found"across most of the state". As a matter of fact, their distribution barely reached into the western part of the state and even there they are exceedingly rare. Moreover, at least inside the US, there have be 0 documented cases of death from a Black Widow Spider bites. And to close, you misidentified many photos and spiders in this article. This is not a personal attack, but more of a FYI for people reading this hokum.
dee on May 04, 2017:
I am not an expert, but this article seems to be not too scientific.
First off, almost all spiders are poisonous. The degree of toxicity is what varies. The only spider I know that isn't poisonous is an Australian web casting spider, if I recall. As an example, the false black widow that is quite common is about as poisonous as the real deal.
Secondly, the banded yellow garden spider has always been called a garden spider and not an orb spider. Their are orb spiders that are specifically called that, not just because they make a round web.
Thirdly, all spiders have not been identified as of today, at least not with a common name. So trying to pigeon hole every spider as to traits and genome will be an ongoing endeavor for quite awhile.
Daddy long legs on May 03, 2017:
Another poisonous spider in north Carolina is the daddy long leg, they just cant bite us since their mouth is too small
Spider lover on April 12, 2017:
Spiders are not poisonous. They are venomous. Poison is ingested while venom is injected.
Julie on March 28, 2017:
That middle picture isnt even a brown recluse bite. I know this because I have the original photos taken by my husband in SE asia more than twelve years ago. It was a scorpion and the crane operator lost his thumb and index finger. Funny how photos get around.
phillip on September 13, 2016:
i don/ wate to die no
daswaff on August 12, 2016:
Utterly incorrect!! Brown recluse range does NOT extend into North Carolina"Eleven species of Loxosceles are indigenous to the continental United States, four of which are known to be harmful to humans. Brown recluse spiders are established in 15 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. In addition, isolated occurrences have been reported in Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wyoming. Brown recluse spiders are rarely encountered in Pennsylvania, but they may be transported in boxes and similar items from a locale where the spiders normally occur." Penn State Entomology. You can simply google ~ brown recluse range ~ and see from a dozen reputable sources that this is a fact! Owlcation is promoting a fable, an urban legend, NOT scientific fact!!
caroline on May 02, 2016:
Don't let anyone tell you that writing spiders aren't poisonous! I was bitten by on when I was younger. I was in a corn field, they were everywhere! One jumped off the web onto my arm and bit me. My arm swelled up huge and so SICK, threw up for days, bedridden, weak. I was seen by a doctor and he treated me
noah on December 23, 2015:
my friend got bit by a brown recluse spider and for 5 years he did not feel a thing I new it was true I saw him for 5 years
noah willams on December 23, 2015:
my friend got bitten by a brown recluse spider and for 3 years he did not fell a thing
Thomas Byers (author) from East Coast , United States on June 19, 2013:
The Brown Recluse is the most dangerous because of the necrosis. I had a friend who was bitten on the thigh and she died 11 weeks later. She was a healthy 44 year old female when she was bitten in her attic.
SolveMyMaze on June 19, 2013:
Cool hub, I had no idea that there were poisonous spiders in the USA, let alone so many varieties. It's shocking that for such a small spider, the Brown Recluse can cause such a damaging level of necrosis if left untreated.
Thomas Byers (author) from East Coast , United States on July 02, 2012:
Thanks for your comment. It is appreciated.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on June 17, 2012:
This is definitely a word to the wise. Excellent educational material, and very simple solutions, too. Good article!
Stephanie Henkel from USA on June 17, 2012:
Since buying a house in North Carolina, I have been concerned about the poisonous Black Widow and Brown Recluse spiders that are found here. We do know people who have been bitten by the brown recluse, and it's a nasty and painful thing! Thanks for the tips on keeping spiders away, and the great photographs to help identify them! Voted up and useful. Shared with followers!
Kevin J Timothy from Tampa, FL on June 17, 2012:
Thanks for creeping me out. I had no idea about the cardboard fact. Its too bad that spiders have always had a terrible stigma because they're honest very remarkable creatures. They're agile, have an I.Q. through the roof, water resistant, and vigilant.
Ginger Ruffles on June 17, 2012:
Always find these two in the garage every summer without fail. Good tips for keeping them away!
whonunuwho from United States on June 17, 2012:
Thanks for the interesting hub, as always. There is also a variation of the Black Widow Spider in the Brown variety and although it does not have the markings of the black variety is the same size and can deliver the same nasty bite. You probably already knew this.