Every year in late June or early July, Mother Nature does her thing in the grasslands of the Park. The Black Widow spiders mass, mate, lay eggs, and then stand guard.

And every year, humans freak out when they see this. Especially in Kimtu and around the Events area.

Perhaps the least known thing about a black widow bite is that people who are bitten seldom suffer serious damage, and almost nobody dies. It hurts right away, yes. It can produce muscle aches, nausea and a paralysis of the diaphragm that may make breathing difficult.

However, unless you are a small child, elderly or quite ill to begin with, a bite is usually not fatal. And the good news is that the spiders would far rather tend to their personal knitting than deal with you. In other words, if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.

Stay Safe

“Everybody” knows what a black widow looks like – shiny black, about half an inch or so including legs, with a ball-shaped body marked with that oh-so-distinctive red hourglass. The point of that marking? It is a bright red warning to predators that they will get a tummy ache from eating the item so marked. So if you see one, don’t check her out as a snack. Also, don’t sit on the Widow. Don’t step on her in your sandals or barefoot. And don’t try to pick her up. Because, unless you try to mess with her, she won’t be the least bit interested in you. Unlike several other species of spider, she won’t jump at you. She’s quite unaggressive, and you are far too large to be of interest as food. So just move aside and move along.

However, if you do manage to get yourself bitten, here’s what to do courtesy of Poison Control:

A black widow spider bite often is painful right away. There will be tiny puncture wounds at the bite site, with some local swelling. Wash the area well with soap and water. If there is no pain, or if the pain is mild, no special treatment is needed.

After a bad bite, severe pain and muscle cramps can start in a couple of hours. Muscle cramps start in the area of the bite (often a hand or foot) and move towards the center of the body. Some black widow bites cause such extreme pain that it’s mistaken for appendicitis or a heart attack. This kind of intense pain is treated with narcotics. Muscle cramps are treated with muscle relaxants. Once in a while, black widow bites can cause trouble breathing. There is an antivenin for such serious cases, but it’s rarely needed.

Anyone who is bitten needs protection from tetanus. If you haven’t had a tetanus booster shot in the last five years, call your physician.

After a bad bite, severe pain and muscle cramps can start in a couple of hours. Muscle cramps start in the area of the bite (often a hand or foot) and move towards the center of the body. Some black widow bites cause such extreme pain that it’s mistaken for appendicitis or a heart attack. This kind of intense pain is treated with narcotics. Muscle cramps are treated with muscle relaxants. Once in a while, black widow bites can cause trouble breathing. There is an antivenin for such serious cases, but it’s rarely needed.

And there is always the option of calling Poison Control right away at 1-800-222-1222 for guidance.

Anyone who is bitten needs protection from tetanus. If you haven’t had a tetanus booster shot in the last five years, call your physician.

How to Avoid Being Bitten at Home

Black widows are shy and tend to hide, so Poison Control has more advice on how to avoid being bitten at home:

Shake out your gardening gloves before putting them on. Shake out boots or shoes that you’ve stored in garages, basements, or sheds before putting them on.

Always wear gloves when moving wood, reaching into wood piles, handling mulch, grabbing empty flower pots, etc.

If you’ll be working in a garage or shed, or under a porch or deck, wear a hat to protect your head.

Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Clinical Toxicologist