Male black-widow spiders tend to select their mates by determining if the female has eaten already to avoid being eaten themselves.

Latrodectus is a broadly distributed genus of spiders, which is composed of both black widow spiders and brown widow spiders.[3][4][5][6] A member of the Theridiidae family, this genus contains 31 species,[2] including the North American black widows (L.

Female widow spiders are typically dark brown or a shiny black in colour when they are full grown, usually exhibiting a red or orange hourglass on the ventral surface (underside) of the abdomen; some may have a pair of red spots or have no marking at all.

The bodies of black widow spiders range from 3–10 mm (0.12–0.39 in) in size; some females can measure 13 mm (0.51 in) in their body length.[7]

Juvenile southern black widow (Latrodectus mactans)

The ultimate tensile strength and other physical properties of Latrodectus hesperus (western black widow) silk were found to be similar to the properties of silk from orb-weaving spiders that had been tested in other studies.

Latrodectus corallinus Abalos, 1980 – Argentina

Latrodectus dahli Levi, 1959 – Morocco to Central Asia

Latrodectus diaguita Carcavallo, 1960 – Argentina

Latrodectus elegans Thorell, 1898 – India, Myanmar, China, Japan

Latrodectus hesperus Chamberlin & Ivie, 1935 – North America, Israel

Latrodectus karrooensis Smithers, 1944 – South Africa

Latrodectus katipo Powell, 1871 – New Zealand

Latrodectus mirabilis (Holmberg, 1876) – Argentina

Latrodectus quartus Abalos, 1980 – Argentina

Latrodectus rhodesiensis Mackay, 1972 – Southern Africa

Latrodectus thoracicus Nicolet, 1849 – Chile

Latrodectus tredecimguttatus (Rossi, 1790) (type species) – Mediterranean to China

Latrodectus variegatus Nicolet, 1849 – Chile, Argentina

Latrodectus variolus Walckenaer, 1837 – US, Canada

In North America, the black widows commonly known as southern (Latrodectus mactans), western (Latrodectus hesperus), and northern (Latrodectus variolus) can be found in the United States, as well as parts of southern Canada – particularly in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, as can the “gray” or “brown widow spiders” (Latrodectus geometricus) and the “red widow spiders” (Latrodectus bishopi).[22]

In the United States, no deaths to black widows have been reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers since 1983.[25] Black widows are not especially aggressive spiders, and they rarely bite humans unless startled or otherwise threatened.[26]

Fatal bites were reported in the early-20th century mostly with Latrodectus tredecimguttatus, the Mediterranean black widow.[27]

Black Widow Spiders.

“The egg-sac in the Identification of Species of Latrodectus (Black-Widow Spiders)” (PDF).

“North American Widow Spiders of the Latrodectus curacaviensis Group”.


Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latrodectus

Latrodectus

Latrodectus is a broadly distributed genus of spiders, which is composed of both black widow spiders and brown widow spiders.[3][4][5][6] A member of the Theridiidae family, this genus contains 31 species,[2] including the North American black widows (L. mactans,L. hesperus, and L. variolus), the European black widow (L. tredecimguttatus), the Australian redback black widow (L. hasseltii) and the button spiders of Southern Africa. Species vary widely in size. In most cases, the females are dark-coloured and readily identifiable by reddish markings on the abdomen, which are often hourglass-shaped.

These small spiders have an unusually potent venom containing the neurotoxin latrotoxin, which causes the condition latrodectism, both named after the genus. Female widow spiders have unusually large venom glands and their bite can be particularly harmful to large vertebrates, including humans. Only the bites of the females are dangerous to humans. Despite their notoriety, Latrodectus bites are rarely fatal or even produce serious complications.

Description[edit]

Female widow spiders are typically dark brown or a shiny black in colour when they are full grown, usually exhibiting a red or orange hourglass on the ventral surface (underside) of the abdomen; some may have a pair of red spots or have no marking at all. The male widow spiders often exhibit various red or red and white markings on the dorsal surface (upper side) of the abdomen, ranging from a single stripe to bars or spots, and juveniles are often similar to the male pattern. Females of a few species are paler brown and some have no bright markings. The bodies of black widow spiders range from 3–10 mm (0.12–0.39 in) in size; some females can measure 13 mm (0.51 in) in their body length.[7]

Behavior[edit]

Juvenile southern black widow (Latrodectus mactans)

The prevalence of sexual cannibalism, a behavior in which the female eats the male after mating, has inspired the common name “widow spiders”.[8] This behaviour may promote the survival odds of the offspring;[9] however, females of some species only rarely show this behaviour, and much of the documented evidence for sexual cannibalism has been observed in laboratory cages where the males could not escape. Male black-widow spiders tend to select their mates by determining if the female has eaten already to avoid being eaten themselves. They are able to tell if the female has fed by sensing chemicals in the web.[10][11]

Like other members of the Theridiidae, widow spiders construct a web of irregular, tangled, sticky silken fibres. Black-widow spiders prefer to nest near the ground in dark and undisturbed areas, usually in small holes produced by animals, or around construction openings or wood piles. Indoor nests are in dark, undisturbed places such as under desks or furniture or in a basement.[12] The spider frequently hangs upside down near the centre of its web and waits for insects to blunder in and get stuck. Then, before the insect can extricate itself, the spider rushes over to envenomate and wrap it in silk. To feed, the mouth pulses digestive juices over the prey which is liquified and then internalized by capillary action, allowing the slurry to be sucked back up into the mouth.[13][14] Their prey consists of small insects such as flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars.[14] If the spider perceives a threat, it quickly lets itself down to the ground on a safety line of silk.

As with other web-weavers, these spiders have very poor eyesight and depend on vibrations reaching them through their webs to find trapped prey or warn them of larger threats. When a widow spider is trapped, it is unlikely to bite, preferring to play dead or flick silk at the potential threat; bites occur when they cannot escape.[15] Many injuries to humans are due to defensive bites delivered when a spider gets unintentionally squeezed or pinched. The blue mud dauber (Chalybion californicum) is a wasp that, in the Western United States, is the primary predator of black widow spiders.[16]

The ultimate tensile strength and other physical properties of Latrodectus hesperus (western black widow) silk were found to be similar to the properties of silk from orb-weaving spiders that had been tested in other studies. The tensile strength for the three kinds of silk measured in the Blackledge study was about 1,000 MPa. The ultimate strength reported in a previous study for Nephila edulis was 1,290 ± 160 MPa.[17] The tensile strength of spider silk is comparable to that of steel wire of the same thickness.[18][not in citation given] However, as the density of steel is about six times that of silk,[19] silk is correspondingly stronger than steel wire of the same weight.

Spiders of the genus Steatoda (also of the Theridiidae) are often mistaken for widow spiders, and are known as “false widow spiders”; they are significantly less harmful to humans.

Taxonomy[edit]

Male L. elegans from Japan

L. hesperus hair and markings

L. hesperus profile

Ventral side of a L. geometricus displaying the hourglass marking

Dorsal side of a L. geometricus in Colorado, United States

L. hesperus with egg sac

L. tredecimguttatus (female swollen with eggs)

The genus Latrodectus was erected by Charles Athanase Walckenaer in 1805, for the species Latrodectus tredecimguttatus and Latrodectus mactans.[1][20] Arachnologist Herbert Walter Levi revised the genus in 1959, studying the female sexual organs and noting their similarity across described species. He concluded the colour variations were variable across the world and were not sufficient to warrant species status, and reclassified the redback and several other species as subspecies of the black widow spider.[21]

Levi also noted that study of the genus had been contentious; in 1902, both F. O. Pickard-Cambridge and Friedrich Dahl had revised the genus, with each criticising the other. Cambridge questioned Dahl’s separating species on what he considered minor anatomical details, and the latter dismissed the former as an “ignoramus”.[21]

Species[edit]

As of July 2017, the World Spider Catalog accepted the following species:[1]

Latrodectus antheratus (Badcock, 1932) – Paraguay, Argentina

Latrodectus apicalis Butler, 1877 – Galapagos Is.

Latrodectus bishopi Kaston, 1938 – US

Latrodectus cinctus Blackwall, 1865 – Cape Verde Is., Africa, Kuwait, Iran

Latrodectus corallinus Abalos, 1980 – Argentina

Latrodectus curacaviensis (Müller, 1776) – Lesser Antilles, South America

Latrodectus dahli Levi, 1959 – Morocco to Central Asia

Latrodectus diaguita Carcavallo, 1960 – Argentina

Latrodectus elegans Thorell, 1898 – India, Myanmar, China, Japan

Latrodectus erythromelas Schmidt & Klaas, 1991 – India, Sri Lanka

Latrodectus geometricus C. L. Koch, 1841 – Cosmopolitan

Latrodectus hasselti Thorell, 1870 – Southeast Asia to Australia, New Zealand

Latrodectus hesperus Chamberlin & Ivie, 1935 – North America, Israel

Latrodectus hystrix Simon, 1890 – Yemen, Socotra

Latrodectus indistinctus O. Pickard-Cambridge, 1904 – Namibia, South Africa

Latrodectus karrooensis Smithers, 1944 – South Africa

Latrodectus katipo Powell, 1871 – New Zealand

Latrodectus lilianae Melic, 2000 – Spain, Algeria

Latrodectus mactans (Fabricius, 1775) – probably native to North America only (introduced elsewhere)

Latrodectus menavodi Vinson, 1863 – Madagascar, Comoro Is., Aldabra

Latrodectus mirabilis (Holmberg, 1876) – Argentina

Latrodectus obscurior Dahl, 1902 – Cape Verde Is., Madagascar

Latrodectus pallidus O. Pickard-Cambridge, 1872 – Cape Verde Is., Libya to Central Asia

Latrodectus quartus Abalos, 1980 – Argentina

Latrodectus renivulvatus Dahl, 1902 – Africa, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq

Latrodectus revivensis Shulov, 1948 – Israel

Latrodectus rhodesiensis Mackay, 1972 – Southern Africa

Latrodectus thoracicus Nicolet, 1849 – Chile

Latrodectus tredecimguttatus (Rossi, 1790) (type species) – Mediterranean to China

Latrodectus variegatus Nicolet, 1849 – Chile, Argentina

Latrodectus variolus Walckenaer, 1837 – US, Canada

Distribution[edit]

Widow spiders can be found on every continent of the world except Antarctica. In North America, the black widows commonly known as southern (Latrodectus mactans), western (Latrodectus hesperus), and northern (Latrodectus variolus) can be found in the United States, as well as parts of southern Canada – particularly in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, as can the “gray” or “brown widow spiders” (Latrodectus geometricus) and the “red widow spiders” (Latrodectus bishopi).[22]

The most prevalent species occurring in eastern Asia and Australia is commonly called the redback (Latrodectus hasselti).

Bite[edit]

Due to the presence of latrotoxin in their venom, black widow bites are potentially dangerous and may result in systemic effects (latrodectism) including severe muscle pain, abdominal cramps, hyperhidrosis, tachycardia, and muscle spasms.[23] Symptoms usually last for 3–7 days, but may persist for several weeks.[24]

In the United States each year, about 2,200 people report being bitten by a black widow, but most do not need medical treatment. Some bites have no venom injected, a “dry” bite. In the United States, no deaths to black widows have been reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers since 1983.[25] Black widows are not especially aggressive spiders, and they rarely bite humans unless startled or otherwise threatened.[26]

Contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage, let alone death. Fatal bites were reported in the early-20th century mostly with Latrodectus tredecimguttatus, the Mediterranean black widow.[27]

Since the venom is not likely to be life-threatening, antivenom has been used as pain relief and not to save lives.[28] However, a study demonstrated that standardized pain medication, when combined with either antivenom or a placebo, had similar improvements in pain and resolution of symptoms.[28]

See also[edit]

List of spiders associated with cutaneous reactions

[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Hillyard, Paul (1994). The Book of the Spiders. New York: Avon Books. pp. 22–35.

Martin, Louise (1988). Black Widow Spiders. Rourke Enterprises, Inc. pp. 18–20.

Preston-Malfham, Ken (1998). Spiders. Edison, New Jersey: Chartwell Books. p. 40.

Abalos, J. W. (1962). “The egg-sac in the Identification of Species of Latrodectus (Black-Widow Spiders)” (PDF). Retrieved September 26, 2013.

Levi, H. W.; McCrone, J. D. (1964). “North American Widow Spiders of the Latrodectus curacaviensis Group”. Psyche. 71 (1): 12–27. doi:10.1155/1964/86469.

External links[edit]

Media related to Latrodectus at Wikimedia Commons

Tree of Life: Latrodectus

Description of crossing experiments between various Latrodectus species

Widow spider parasitoids on the UF / IFAS Featured Creatures Web site