A southern black widow (Latrodectus mactans) photographed at Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, Louisiana
A southern black widow (Latrodectus mactans) photographed at Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, Louisiana
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Black Widow Spiders

Common Name:
Black Widow Spiders
Scientific Name:
Latrodectus
Type:
Invertebrates
Diet:
Carnivore
Average Life Span In The Wild:
1 to 3 years
Size:
1.5 inches long; diameter of 0.25 inches
Weight:
0.035 ounces

Black widows are notorious spiders identified by the colored, hourglass-shaped mark on their abdomens. Several species answer to the name, and they are found in temperate regions around the world.

Venom

This spider's bite is much feared because its venom is reported to be 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake's. In humans, bites produce muscle aches, nausea, and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult; however, contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage—let alone death. But bites can be fatal—usually to small children, the elderly, or the infirm. Fortunately, fatalities are fairly rare; the spiders are nonaggressive and bite only in self-defense, such as when someone accidentally sits on them.

Mating Ritual

The animals most at risk from the black widow's bite are insects—and male black widow spiders. Females sometimes kill and eat their counterparts after mating in a macabre behavior that gave the insect its name. Black widows are solitary year-round except during this violent mating ritual.

Webs and Feeding

These spiders spin large webs in which females suspend a cocoon with hundreds of eggs. Spiderlings disperse soon after they leave their eggs, but the web remains. Black widow spiders also use their webs to ensnare their prey, which consists of flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars. Black widows are comb-footed spiders, which means they have bristles on their hind legs that they use to cover their prey with silk once it has been trapped.

To feed, black widows puncture their insect prey with their fangs and administer digestive enzymes to the corpses. By using these enzymes, and their gnashing fangs, the spiders liquefy their prey's bodies and suck up the resulting fluid.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
Photograph by J. Ramirez, National Geographic Your Shot

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