You probably know to fear the black widow spider — but what about the brown widow spider?
This slightly different-colored spider may seem just as scary, but fortunately it doesn’t have the same dangerous bite as the black widow. The brown recluse is also different from the brown widow (and, like the black widow, more dangerous).
Keep reading to find out more about brown widow spiders and what to do if one bites you.
The brown widow spider, or Lactrodectus geometricus, doesn’t typically have or inject enough venom to cause the same reactions as a black widow spider.
Brown widow spider bites cause more of a local reaction. This means most of the symptoms are related to the bite rather than the venom the spider injects.
Brown widow spider bite symptoms include:
- pain when the spider bites you
- a red mark with a puncture wound
- pain or discomfort around the spider bite
Only female brown spiders bite
When female brown widow spiders bite, they typically inject less venom than a black widow spider, and the bites usually don’t cause any symptoms beyond the discomfort of the wound.
While a brown widow spider bite is not a deadly one, it’s still uncomfortable when a spider bites you. Here are some ways you can treat the bite:
- Keep the area clean and dry. Wash with warm, soapy water and pat dry.
- Apply a cloth-covered ice pack to the bite area. This can help reduce swelling.
- Elevate the area whenever possible to minimize swelling.
- Apply an anti-itch cream, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) cream, to reduce the pain and discomfort from the bite.
If the spider bite starts to get worse instead of better or starts to show signs of infection, such as swelling, warmth to the touch, or releasing pus, see a doctor.
Brown widow spiders don’t carry disease like mosquitoes can. They also don’t inject the same amount of venom as more dangerous spiders, such as black widows or brown recluses, do.
Some experts think brown widow spider venom is just as potent as black widow venom. However, brown widow spiders are usually more timid than black widows and tend to inject less venom.
Brown widows displacing black widows
Ecological experts have found that brown widow spiders are pushing black widow spiders out of their habitats. When brown widows establish their home in a certain area, black widows usually choose not to live there. Therefore, people are seeing fewer black widow spiders in their typical territories.
Most experts consider brown widow spiders less aggressive than black widows and therefore less likely to bite a person. However, they’ll definitely bite a person if they feel threatened or are protecting their eggs.
If you accidentally touch a brown widow spider, such as when reaching your hand into a crevice, chances are it will bite you. Being aware of your surroundings and looking into crevices before reaching in can help you avoid being bitten.
The best ways to prevent being bitten by a brown widow spider are to keep spiders out of your home and to avoid them when outdoors.
Here are some places a brown widow spider might live:
- in or around patio furniture
- outdoor toys
- storage closets
You can help prevent brown widow spider bites by discouraging the spiders from living in your home and being wary of where they might be hiding.
Here are some recommendations:
- Keep firewood outdoors to keep the spiders from building webs inside your home.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when going outdoors, especially in wooded areas.
- Always inspect and shake out gloves, boots, shoes, and jackets that have been outdoors before putting them on.
- Ensure your home is well-sealed to keep insects out, such as by sealing around doors, attics, and rail spaces.
- Clear spiderwebs in your home using a broom or vacuum.
- Store items you may use less often, such as roller skates or winter boots, in sealed bags to keep spiders away.
- Always wear gloves when working outdoors or in your garage.
- Reduce clutter whenever possible, including by moving papers and clothing off the floor.
If you see a spider on your body, don’t smash it. Instead, flick the spider off. This can reduce the risk of the spider injecting venom into your body.
Brown widow spiders have several distinct characteristics that can help you spot them:
- Female spiders are larger than males. Females are about 1/2 inch long with their legs fully extended. Males are significantly smaller.
- Both males and females have brown bodies with tan and black legs. They also have an hourglass marking on their abdomen (the underside of their bodies) that’s typically orange.
- The egg sac of the brown widow spider is covered in small spikes instead of being smooth.
- Brown widow spiders can be found in Hawaii, California, Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina.
- Brown widow spiders’ webs are irregular and very sticky. They’re not intricate and tend to look tangled. For this reason, some people call brown widows “cobweb” spiders.
If a spider does bite you, it’s a good idea to trap the spider, if possible, or even contain its crushed body. This can help a doctor identify the spider if you have further problems with the bite.
Brown widow spiders are appearing in greater numbers in the United States. Fortunately, they don’t tend to bite as readily — or inject as much venom — as their black widow counterparts.
However, it’s possible you could have an allergic reaction to the bite. Plus, spider bites are uncomfortable. It’s best to discourage these spiders from living in your home and take steps to avoid getting bitten.