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Western Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus).JPG
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Family: Theridiidae
Subfamily: Latrodectinae
Genus: Latrodectus
Walckenaer, 1805

33 discovered species, estimated 65 species living

Latrodectus is a genus of spider in the big spider family Theridiidae, most of which are commonly known as widow spiders. The genus contains 33 recognized species distributed worldwide, including the North American black widows (L. mactans, L. hesperus, and L. variolus), the button spiders of Africa, and the Australian redback. Species vary widely in size. In most cases the females are dark-colored and readily identifiable by reddish hourglass-shaped markings on the abdomen.

The venomous bite of these spiders is considered particularly dangerous because of the neurotoxin latrotoxin, which causes the condition latrodectism, both named for the genus. The female black widow has unusually large venom glands and its bite can be particularly harmful to humans. However, despite the genus' notoriety, Latrodectus bites are rarely fatal. Only female bites are dangerous to humans. However, there is no way of telling whether an individual is male or female until diagnosed.


Female widow spiders are typically dark brown or black in color, usually exhibiting a red or orange hourglass on the ventral abdomen; some may have a pair of red spots or have no marking at all. They often exhibit various red or red and white markings on the dorsal abdomen, ranging from a single stripe to bars or spots. Females of a few species are paler brown and some have no bright markings. It is impossible to figure out if a latrodectus is female, spiderling, or male just by looking at it.


The prevalence of sexual cannibalism, a behavior in which the female eats the male after mating, has inspired the common name "widow spiders". [1] Research at the University of Hamburg in Germany suggests this behaviour may promote the survival odds of the offspring;[2] however, females of some species only rarely show this behavior, and much of the documented evidence for sexual cannibalism has been observed in laboratory cages where the males could not escape.

Like other members of the Theridiidae family, the widow spiders construct a web of irregular, tangled, sticky silken fibers. The spider very frequently hangs upside down near the center of its web and waits for insects to blunder in and get stuck. Then, before the insect can extricate itself, the spider rushes over to bite it and wrap it in silk. To feed, it uses its fangs to inject digestive enzymes, liquefying the prey's internal organs.[3] If the spider perceives a threat, it will quickly let itself down to the ground on a safety line of silk. As with other web-weavers, these spiders have very poor eyesight and depend on vibrations reaching them through their webs to find trapped prey or warn them of larger threats. When a widow spider is trapped, it is unlikely to bite, preferring to play dead or flick silk at the potential threat; bites are the result of continual harassment.[4] While some species are more aggressive, most are not: many injuries to humans are due to defensive bites delivered when a spider gets unintentionally squeezed or pinched.

The ultimate tensile strength and other physical properties of Latrodectus hesperus (western black widow) silk were found to be similar to the properties of silk from orb-weaving spiders that had been tested in other studies. The tensile strength for the three kinds of silk measured in the Blackledge study was about 1000 MPa. The ultimate strength reported in a previous study for Nephila edulis was b1290 MPa ± 160 MPa.[5] The tensile strength of spider silk is comparable to that of steel wire of the same thickness.[6] However, as the density of steel is about six times that of silk,[7] silk is correspondingly stronger than steel wire of the same weight.

Spiders of the genus Steatoda (also of the Theridiidae family) are often mistaken for widow spiders, and are known as "false widow spiders"; they are significantly less harmful to humans.


L. hesperus hair and markings
L. hesperus profile

Arachnologist Herbert Walter Levi revised the genus Lactrodectus in 1959, studying the female sexual organs and noting their similarity across described species. He concluded the colour variations were variable across the world and were not sufficient to warrant species status, and reclassified the redback and several other species as subspecies of the black widow spider.[8]

Levi also noted that study of the genus had been contentious; in 1902 both F.P Cambridge and Friedrich Dahl had revised the genus, with each criticising the other. Cambridge questioned Dahl's separating species on what he considered minor anatomical details, and the latter dismissed the former as an "ignoramus".[8]

The southern black widow, as well as the closely related western and northern species which were previously considered the same species, has a prominent red hourglass figure on the underside of its abdomen. Many of the other widow spiders have red patterns on a glossy black or dark background, which serve as a warning. Spiders found in multiple regions are listed in their predominant native habitat.

Widow spiders can be found on every continent of the world except Antarctica. In North America, the black widows commonly known as southern (Latrodectus mactans), western (Latrodectus hesperus), and northern (Latrodectus variolus) can be found in the United States as well as parts of southern Canada - particularly in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, as can the "gray" or "brown widow spiders" (Latrodectus geometricus) and the "red widow spiders" (Latrodectus bishopi).[9] The most prevalent species occurring in Australia is commonly called the redback (Latrodectus hasselti). African species of this genus are sometimes known as button spiders.


L. hesperus with egg sac
Ventral side of a L. geometricus displaying the hourglass marking
Dorsal side of a L. geometricus in Colorado, USA

The following widow spiders are indigenous to North America:

  • Latrodectus bishopi, the red widow, Florida, USA
  • Latrodectus hesperus, the western black widow, widespread range across the Western United States and extreme southern Canada, ranging East to Oklahoma, and South to Mexico.
  • Latrodectus mactans, the black widow spider (sometimes called the southern black widow), warm regions of the USA
  • Latrodectus variolus, the northern black widow, from the extreme southeastern part of Canada and south to northern Florida, with frequency higher in the northern part of this range.

The following are indigenous to Central and South America:

Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and western Asia[edit]

The following widows are indigenous to the Mediterranean region, as well as in western Asia:

Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar[edit]

Male L. elegans from Japan

South and Eastern Asia[edit]

Australia and Oceania[edit]



Due to the presence of latrotoxin in their venom, black widow bites are potentially dangerous and may result in systemic effects (latrodectism) including severe muscle pain, abdominal cramps, hyperhidrosis, tachycardia, and muscle spasms.[12] Symptoms usually last for 3–7 days, but may persist for several weeks.[13]

"Male spiders produce the toxins to help with their own hunting, but they make such a diluted version that they’re not harmful to most people. Female black widows, on the other hand, have quickly evolved super concentrated venom that can kill a person. Each year, about 2,200 people report being bitten by a black widow, but most recover within 24 hours with medical treatment. Many people who are bitten develop few symptoms since the spider may not inject its venom. Black widows are not especially aggressive spiders, and they rarely bite humans unless startled or otherwise threatened.[14]

Contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage, let alone death. Fatal bites were reported in the early 20th century mostly with tredecimguttatus.[15]

Since the venom is not likely to be life-threatening, antivenom has been used as pain relief and not to save lives.[16] However, a study demonstrated that antivenom and placebo added to standardized pain medication had similar improvement in pain and resolution of symptoms.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Breene, R. G.; Sweet, M. H. (1985). "Evidence of insemination of multiple females by the male Black Widow Spider, Latrodectus mactans (Araneae, Theridiidae)" (PDF). The Journal of Arachnology 13 (3): 331–335. 
  2. ^ "Male spiders let females eat them for kids' sake: Study". livescience. 23 December 2011. Retrieved 23 December 2011. 
  3. ^ "Animals: Black Widow Spider". National Geographic. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Nelsen, David; Kelln, Wayne; Hayes, William. "Poke but don't pinch: risk assessment and venom metering in the western black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperus". sciencedirect.com. ScienceDirect. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  5. ^ Blackledge, Todd; et al. "Quasistatic and continuous dynamic characterization of the mechanical properties of silk from the cobweb of the black widow spider Latrodectus hesperus, table 1". The Company of Biologists. Retrieved 2009-01-23. 
  6. ^ "Astm a36". OnlineMetals.com. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  7. ^ Elices, Manuel; Guinea, Gustavo V.; Pérez-Rigueiro, José; Plaza, Gustavo R.; et al. (2005). "Finding Inspiration in Argiope Trifasciata Spider Silk Fibers". JOM 57 (2): 60–66. Bibcode:2005JOM....57b..60E. doi:10.1007/s11837-005-0218-7. Retrieved 2009-01-23. 
  8. ^ a b Levi, Herbert W. (1959). "The Spider Genus Latrodectus (Araneae, Theridiidae)". Transactions of the American Microscopical Society 78 (1): 7–43. doi:10.2307/3223799. JSTOR 3223799. 
  9. ^ (Preston-Malfham, 1998).
  10. ^ Sutton, Marion. "Field identification of katipo" (PDF). DOC RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT SERIES 237. Science & Technical Publishing Department of Conservation. Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  11. ^ Vink, Cor J.; Sirvid, Phil J.; Malumbres-Olarte, Jagoba; Griffiths, James W.; Paquin, Pierre; Paterson, Adrian M. (2008). "Species status and conservation issues of New Zealand's endemic Latrodectus spider species (Araneae: Theridiidae)". Invertebrate Systematics (Collingwood, Vic., Australia: CSIRO Publishing) 22 (6): 589–604. doi:10.1071/IS08027. ISSN 1445-5226. OCLC 50150601. 
  12. ^ Ushkaryov, YA; english, A; Sugita, S (2008). "alpha-Latrotoxin and its receptors". Handbook of experimental pharmacology. Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology 184 (184): 171–206. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-74805-2_7. ISBN 978-3-540-74804-5. PMC 2519134. PMID 18064415. 
  13. ^ Peterson, ME (November 2006). "Black widow spider envenomation". Clinical techniques in small animal practice 21 (4): 187–90. doi:10.1053/j.ctsap.2006.10.003. PMID 17265903. 
  14. ^ Why Black Widow Spider Venom Is So Potent. By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News January 6, 2015
  15. ^ Bettini, S (1964). "Epidemiology of latrodectism". Toxicon 2 (2): 93–102. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(64)90009-1. 
  16. ^ a b Isbister, Geoffrey K.; Page, Colin B.; Buckley, Nicholas A.; Fatovich, Daniel M.; Pascu, Ovidiu; MacDonald, Stephen P.J.; Calver, Leonie A.; Brown, Simon G.A. (2014). "Randomized Controlled Trial of Intravenous Antivenom Versus Placebo for Latrodectism: The Second Redback Antivenom Evaluation (RAVE-II) Study". Annals of Emergency Medicine. doi:10.1016/j.annemergmed.2014.06.006. (subscription required (help)). 


  • Insects and Spiders. New York: St. Remy Media Inc. / Discovery Books. 2000. p. 35. 
  • Freeman, Scott (2003). Biological Science. Prentice-Hall. 
  • Hillyard, Paul (1994). The Book of Spiders. New York: Random House, Inc. pp. 47–50. 
  • Hillyard, Paul (1994). The Book of the Spiders. New York: Avon Books. pp. 22–35. 
  • Martin, Louise (1988). Black Widow Spiders. Rourke Enterprises, Inc. pp. 18–20. 
  • Preston-Malfham, Ken (1998). Spiders. Edison, New Jersey: Chartwell Books. p. 40. 
  • "Arthropod". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 2004. 
  • Abalos, J. W. (1962). "The egg-sac in the Identification of Species of Latrodectus (Black-Widow Spiders)" (PDF). Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  • Levi, H. W.; McCrone, J. D. (1964). "North American Widow Spiders of the Latrodectus curacaviensis Group". 

External links[edit]

Media related to Latrodectus at Wikimedia Commons
Data related to Latrodectus at Wikispecies

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latrodectus — Please support Wikipedia.
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Thu, 26 Nov 2015 04:56:15 -0800

В качестве объекта исследования были выбраны черные вдовы Latrodectus – смертельно опасные для человека пауки. Ученые бросали им в паутину домашних сверчков Acheta domesticus, а затем пытались по ДНК на отдельных паутинках ...

Digital Journal

Digital Journal
Sat, 07 Nov 2015 03:04:25 -0800

The black widow (Latrodectus mactans) is well-known for devouring the male after sex, and in another species of orb-weaver, Argiope bruennichi, the female actually begins eating the male while they are still mating. And even though he's being eaten, he ...


Tue, 27 Oct 2015 15:14:01 -0700

Friday was a day like many others for the PhD student as she conducted mating trials with a species of black widow (Latrodectus hesperus) in the Andrade lab at U of T's Scarborough campus. She put three male spiders and three females into a "mating ...

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Mon, 23 Nov 2015 20:18:45 -0800

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Entomology Today

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Tue, 25 Aug 2015 05:08:00 -0700

Tahiti is a popular tourist destination, but one unwanted visitor has decided to make its home there: the brown widow spider (Latrodectus geometricus). A paper published in the Journal of Medical Entomology has reported the discovery of the spider for ...

ynet ידיעות אחרונות

ynet ידיעות אחרונות
Thu, 19 Nov 2015 03:40:11 -0800

המוכרים שבהם הם האלמנה השחורה (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) וארסן (ששן) חום (Loxosceles rufescens), שמניסיון אישי ניחן באופי רגוע מאד וניתן להוציאו מהבית בקלות בעזרת כוס ופיסת קרטון, מבלי שינסה אפילו להתגונן או לנשוך. כן, לנשוך. פטמתן (צילום: קרן לוי). פטמתן(צילום: קרן לוי).

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