The United States is home to a total of five “widow spider” species, the most well known of which are “black widows.” Spider species that belong to the Latrodectus genus are commonly referred to as widow spiders. Three black widow spider species can be found in the US, including the southern black widow (Latrodectus mactans), which is the species responsible for most reported black widow spider envenomations in the US. The other two black widow spider species are northern black widows (L. variolus) and western black widows (L. hesperus). The two other widow spider species found in the US are not well known to the public despite their close association with humans and their habit of infesting homes. One of these species, the red widow (L. bishopi) can only be found in Florida, but the brown widow (L. geometricus) can be found in the southeastern states and California. The southern black widow can be found throughout Georgia, the northern black widow can be found in the upper half of the state, and the brown widow has become a common household pest in the lower half of the state.
Rumors of brown widow spiders inhabiting Georgia began to spread during the early 2000s, and in 2006, the Chatham County Health Department confirmed that brown widows were the spiders that had established an extensive infestation within a Savannah apartment complex. According Sharon Varn, a health department employee, before the brown widows were found in the Savannah apartment complex, it was not known for certain if the species had become established in Georgia. Varn later collected hundreds of brown widows from other indoor areas in southern Georgia.
Entomologists with the University of Georgia state that the brown widow’s venom is even more potent than black widow venom, and five percent of all people who sustain a brown widow bite experience severe medical reactions, such as anaphylactic shock. Luckily, brown widows do not inject as much venom into their victims as their black widow relatives. In order to avoid brown widow bites, experts recommend that residents wear gloves while performing yard work and while cleaning up garages and storage spaces. Brown widows can be recognized for their large spherical abdomens, long legs and body length of 7 to 10 mm for females, or half this size for male specimens. Females vary in color from nearly white, grey, brown or black. According to a recent nationwide survey of pest control professionals, the brown widow spider is the seventh most commonly controlled spider species within US homes.
Have you ever encountered a widow spider of any kind?