Nature writer Jackson Landers had his encounter with a black widow spider in Virginia, where he lives. But since we are lousy with black widows here too and his story for today's New York Times Science section is kind of gripping, it's worth a link and a read. The story is educational as well: Female spiders rarely kill the male after mating, he says, and both sexes of black widow carry the same venom. "But the females have more of it and their fangs can inject it deeper," writes Landers. After his bite he went fishing.
Three catfish later, the symptoms were progressing. I felt a warmth in my abdomen. This turned into pressure, which became a painful cramping. There could be no more denial. I carried my fish up the hill to my car and headed for the University of Virginia hospital, in Charlottesville.
I knew the emergency room might not be able to do much. My research had taught me that while an antivenin exists, few patients actually get it.
There's a video of Landers talking about black widows on the NYT site. Last year, during the fall spider season, LA Observed contributor Ellen Alperstein wrote about black widows and other common backyard spiders at Native Intelligence. There's a lot you probably didn't know. From her post:
Although a bite can hurt, there's only one L.A. spider whose venom is dangerous--the female black widow. (The brown widow, a fairly new denizen of L.A., also can envenomate humans and make them sick, but the power of the toxin is uncertain.) She lives everywhere; you don't want to know how many are hiding in your closet, garage or trash bin. But in more than 30 years of studying spiders, Vetter said he hears of only two or three black widow bites a year. In the whole U.S. That doesn't mean more people aren't getting bitten, it means they're not cause for particular alarm.
The bite itself is not particularly painful, but the neurotoxic venom has the potential to cause extreme abdominal or chest pain, excessive sweating, nausea, cramps and elevated blood pressure. Widow bites can make you sick for weeks, but treatment in the ER can alleviate the symptoms.
If a wound demonstrates an antibacterial reaction--say, it's oozing pus--it's not the result of a spider bite. Spiders are not vectors for bacterial or viral infection. Too many people, the scientists say, might be walking around with a staph infection or Lyme disease or poison oak that should be treated but are not because they blame a spider. A brown recluse bite becomes necrotic, but not a black widow's. In L.A., as Bush noted, "The uglier the wound, the less likely it's a spider bite."
LA Observed file photo: Chuck Kristensen, Spider Pharm