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The black widow is a shiny, jet-black spider with long legs and a red
or orange hourglass-shaped marking on its underside. It is about an
inch long, including the legs. Black widow and brown recluse spiders
are the only highly venomous spiders in North America. Black widow
bites cause immediate local pain and swelling. Muscle cramps may also
occur for 6 to 24 hours. They rarely cause death (except in younger
children or when the victim is bitten by several spiders).
Call your child's healthcare provider IMMEDIATELY in all cases.
Wash the wound with soap and water to help prevent infection. Put
an ice cube on the bite to slow the spread of the venom. Then go
to the nearest emergency room or wherever your healthcare
provider tells you to go. Antivenin is available for severe bites
in young children.
Black widow spiders generally live in trash, woodpiles, garages,
and other dark places. Don't play or work in woodpiles, rock
piles, or dark corners of outdoor buildings without wearing
gloves. Spray insecticides in any area where black widow spiders
The brown recluse is brown, has long legs, and has a dark,
violin-shaped marking on its head. It is about 1/2 inch long,
including the legs. Brown recluse spider bites cause local pain and
blister formation in 4 to 8 hours. The skin damage may require
grafting. The bites are rarely fatal.
Apply ice and get medical attention immediately. Wash the bite
thoroughly with soap and water. Bring the spider with you if
possible. (Brown recluse spiders may be hard to identify.)
Don't play or work in woodpiles, rock piles, or dark corners of
outdoor buildings without wearing gloves. Brown recluse spiders
live outdoors under rocks, logs, woodpiles and trash. The spider
is also able to live indoors. The brown recluse hunts at night
and does not use a web. Bites may occur while moving stored items
or putting on a piece of clothing where a spider is hiding. Brown
recluse spiders cannot bite through clothing.
Many spiders can cause local but nondangerous reactions (for example,
golden garden spiders). The bites are painful and mildly swollen for
1 or 2 days, much like a bee sting. In fact, spiders are probably
responsible for most single, unexplained, tender bites that occur on
children during the night. (Mosquito bites are usually itchy rather
than painful.) Many people worry about the tarantula, a black hairy
spider that is 2 to 3 inches long. Its mild venom also causes a local
reaction resembling a bee sting.
Although most spider bites are harmless, an occasional bite may have
been made by a black widow spider. Try to capture the spider (dead or
alive) in a jar and bring it along if your child needs to be seen by
a healthcare provider. Don't bludgeon the spider beyond recognition.
Wash the bite thoroughly with soap and water. Then rub the area
with a cotton ball soaked with a meat tenderizer solution for 15
minutes. If meat tenderizer is not available, an ice cube applied
to the area often helps. Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen as
needed for pain relief.
Call your child's healthcare provider:
During office hours if:
Scorpions belong to the same class (arachnids) as spiders. They are
found in desert areas. About 20 different kinds occur in the
southwestern United States. Scorpions have poisonous stingers on
their tails. Most of the stings cause local pain and swelling,
similar to the symptoms of black widow spider bites.
Put an ice cube on the sting to slow the spread of the venom. Do
not try to suck out the venom. Go to the nearest emergency room
or wherever your healthcare provider tells you to go.
If you are staying in an area where scorpions live, check your
shoes and clothing before putting them on.