Many people get very frightened when they see an eight-legged bug crawling on the kitchen floor, or dangling from a web above them. While they often look scary, very few spiders can hurt people with their bites. In fact, the vast majority of spiders are not poisonous. In Africa and the Americas, there are many cultures that actually view the spider as an honored part of nature.
Spiders are found all over the earth, from rain forests to prairies to deserts to the tundra. While people may fear them, other insects fear them a lot more, because those insects are the spider’s prey.
Spiders come in a wide variety of sizes from 0.04 inches to over 4 inches. Their bodies have two sections, the cephalothorax (head and thorax together), and the abdomen. Each of their eight legs has seven parts, and the majority of spider varieties have two claws at the end of each leg. These claws help spiders walk on their webs without getting into the adhesive that traps a spider’s prey.
One feature that spiders share with insects is an exoskeleton – an outer shell. In spiders, the cephalothorax and legs are inside the shell. A difference between spiders and insects is that insects only have six legs. Another difference is a spider’s lack of antennae.
Spiders have up to eight eyes, but they sense objects and other living things through vibrations on the walking surface. Each nerve ending has a mechanoreceptor, a tiny hair-shaped organ that converts these vibrations into specific information about what is going on around the spider. These receptors connect directly to the spider’s brain.
Spiders have other hairs as well, that do not provide information to the brain. When spiders want to stick to a slippery surface (something other than their web!), they have bristly hairs on the bottom of their feet that they will use when walking. They have stiffer bristly hairs on their legs that they use to get rid of tangles in the part of their web where they catch prey.
One of the most interesting facts about spiders is the fact that they do not digest their food inside their bodies. Instead, once their prey is wriggling in the web, too entangled to hope for escape, the spiders will spit enzymes from their intestines all over their next meal. Imagine spitting up the acids from your intestines onto a plate full of food! It doesn’t take very long for these enzymes to dissolve part of the prey, and the spider starts to eat. This process is repeated until the prey is gone; the spider’s stomach acts like a pump, pulling the food into the spider’s body.
Most of the spiders that you find in your house are not dangerous. However, there are several spider varieties that you should keep an eye out for, because their bites can cause you severe health problems within minutes. This guide will help you identify the most malicious eight-legged invaders that could find their way into your house.
The black widow spider’s bite can be deadly, particularly to children and the elderly. If you get medical attention in time, there is an antivenom that works. Black widows are ½ inch long; the female’s body has a red hourglass shape on the bottom of her abdomen, and her skin is glossy and black. The red hourglass may be yellow or orange, and the shape may look more like a dot.
They live in clutter, nooks and basements are their favorite places inside, particularly where you’ve stacked a lot of your old belongings and let them sit for a long time. Outside, you’ll find them beneath rocks, inside stumps, around firewood, and in clutter inside garages and storage sheds. The black widow’s venom attacks your nervous system, and if you don’t get treatment in time, you’ll feel headaches, abdominal pain and nausea, and possibly hypertension. And while the bite might really hurt, you might not notice it at all.
The brown recluse can also be deadly. Most of these spiders live in the southern half of the United States, ranging from coast to coast. They range from ¼ inch to ¾ inch in size, with a brown shape like a violin shape on top of the point where all of the legs connect. Even if you get attention in time to avoid fatality, the venom from a brown recluse can cause skin necrosis.
The hobo spider is not quite as dangerous as the black widow or the brown recluse, but if you do not get medical attention, severe medical conditions can result. These spiders are brown, between 1/3 inch and 2/3-inch long. You won’t feel a hobo spider’s bite at first, but after the first 24 hours, the bite will become a blister and, the next day, will break open. Symptoms include headaches that will quickly worsen, nausea, impaired vision, fatigue, memory loss and weakness. They live in the American Northwest, from Colorado and Wyoming on up to Washington state.
Mouse spiders, wolf spiders and black house spiders are also dangerous, but are not as aggressive as the three listed above. With any spider bite, if you are not sure which species has sunk its teeth into you, you will want to seek medical attention sooner than later.
How to Treat a Spider Bite
If a black widow or brown recluse bites you, you need medical attention sooner than later. Here are some steps to help you treat your bite and avoid severe medical problems.
If a black widow bites you, it will feel like a slight pinprick, if it doesn’t hurt more. Imagine how it feels when a nurse pricks your finger to take some blood. Within the first couple hours after the bite, you may feel cramping and pain, nausea, restlessness, and higher blood pressure. The symptoms become their worst three hours after the bite. However, if you seek medical attention, you should not suffer lasting effects. Anti-venom is available for the most serious cases (very young or very old victims, or people who have received multiple bites). More common remedies for treatment include giving the victim fluids and analgesics. Tetanus shots are also a common method.
If a brown recluse bites you, you will not know it for a while. Symptoms will not appear for several hours; after that, you will start to develop a lesion, and the area around the bite will tingle, turn red, itch, and start to hurt. The lesion will start to look like a bull’s eye – red rings around the white blister in the middle. You’ll see the bull’s eye take full shape within eight hours of the bite – this is often the surest way to tell that a brown recluse has bitten you. If you do not seek immediate treatment, the lesion will rupture, and skin tissue around it will start to die. Later on, you will suffer from gastrointestinal pain and possibly kidney failure.
Some remedies for brown recluse bites include the use of antibiotics and basic treatment for cuts. It can take weeks for the lesions to go away completely. Unlike a black widow bite, there is no anti-venom for brown recluse poison.
What if you don’t know what type of spider bit you, or bit your child? It is true that most spider bites are not poisonous, even though you will feel a sting, and the bite may swell, turn red, and hurt. You might get sick to your stomach and even throw up. If you’re not sure what kind of spider it was, find it (if you can) and save it. Clean the bite – but just with water and soap. Find out if you need a tetanus shot, and rub some Neosporin, or other antibiotic, on the area. You can also use hydrocortisone cream to control itching and swelling, and you can take a pain reliever if needed. If any of the above symptoms appear, seek medical attention immediately.
Electronic Devices for Spider Control
Apart from foggers for spiders and other pesticides that contain poisonous chemicals, there can also be natural methods for spider control. Many of the natural, or “green,” methods of spider removal and spider control are effective, but they are not always as strong as pesticides or other chemicals. They are not as harsh on their environments, and so they are not always as hard on their targets.
Because of the growing concern for environmental effects of chemical pest control solutions, and with advances in technology, there is a wide variety of electronic devices available to help you get rid of the spiders that are infesting your house.
One of these devices is a high-frequency ultrasonic noisemaker. Plugged into a wall outlet, this will emit a sound that is above the hearing ranges of people, dogs and cats – but not spiders. These sounds will drive the spiders out of the house, looking for quieter surroundings. The higher-end products in this category offer different frequencies for different pests, as well as a night light and volume control.
Handheld electric zappers are also available for individual spider control. They are quite simple to use – simply hold the zapper over the spider, focusing the central grid on the body, and push the “On” button. Electricity will zap out and kill the spider in front of you. These zappers have a fairly long reach – you can use them to eliminate spiders under your washer or dryer, as well as other appliances.
There are also vacuum-type cleaners that will zap and capture spiders for you. There is a head attachment that looks a lot like a vacuum cleaner head, that you point toward the spiders you want to capture. Then, you turn the device on, and it sucks the pests into the machine, pulling them toward an electrical grid which will kill the spider immediately. If you want to catch the pests but not kill them, simply turn off the grid feature and suck up the spiders. Once they are inside the bag, you can take them to another location and release them.
Smaller versions of the vacuum look like a curling iron and feature a transparent trapping area where you can see the spiders you catch, if you decide not to fry them immediately.
New electronic products for pest control, including spiders come out every month, if not sooner. With every advance in technology comes more innovations in spider elimination and control. There’s no reason to let spiders have the run of your house.