The Know About the Black Widow
Although the Black Widow is a spider that is potentially harmful to people due to its venom, which is estimated to be (ounce to ounce) 15 times stronger than that of a rattlesnake (although one rattlesnake bite can deliver more venom than a widow can hold in its body), serious harm to humans from a Western Black Widow, Latrodectus Hesperus, is relatively uncommon, and fatalities are rare. The Western Black Widow, Latrodectus hesperus, is the Widow species most often encountered in Colorado. Black Widows have been known to cause death on very rare occasions, but mostly to infants, the elderly, and the infirm. Although Black Widows can bite multiple times, they have a finite amount of venom and after a few full envenomations they will deliver dry bites. Widows are very passive animals and only bite when threatened in their web. Bites typically occur when a victim reaches blindly into a dark area near the ground and inadvertently destroys a Black Widow’s web; the spider will bite in self-defense. Widows are very clumsy when not in their webs, and therefore are not found wandering or hunting. There is an antivenin for the neurotoxic venom of the Black Widow, but because in many cases the reaction to the antivenin is more severe than the bite it is administered in less than 7% of all hospital admittances for Widow bites. While it is virtually impossible to say for sure whether you have been bitten by a Widow or some other spider or insect without actually witnessing the bite, Widow bite symptoms are quick to appear (30-40 minutes) and can include any of the following: · Local pain, redness, burning and swelling at bite site (some victims may have minimal pain from the bite itself) · Abdominal pain (pain can be similar to appendicitis) · Localized or generalized muscle cramps (stomach, shoulders and back) · Headache · Rash and itching · Sweating · Eyelid swelling · Salivation, tearing of the eyes · Weakness, tremors or paralysis (especially in the legs) · Nausea and/or Vomiting · Dizziness and/or Fainting · Chest pain (similar to a heart attack) · Respiratory difficulties · High blood pressure Because of this large range of uncomfortable and alarming symptoms, victims of serious Widow bites will usually seek medical treatment immediately. It is important to wash the bite site, no matter the spider, as soon as it is identified. Although a Black Widow’s venom will be out of your system after several days, a severe infection such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is highly resistant to some antibiotics, can be present and may not exhibit symptoms for quite some time.
Chad, Zookeeper at the Butterfly Pavilion
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