Black widow spider

Western Black Widow
Latrodectus hesperus

At Lindsay Wildlife Experience,  we have two female black widows: Elvira and Dahlia.

Western Black Widows are the only black widow species that are native to California. Black widows get their name from their courtship behavior and coloration. Female black widows have a black shiny bulbous abdomen with an hourglass shaped red mark on their underside. Males are much smaller than females and retain their brown juvenile coloration throughout their lives. Females and males mate by coming in contact with each other’s webs. The silk that these spiders produce is specific to their gender; as a result, they can identify female webs from those of a male. The female black widow is very specific about the males that she will reproduce with. Often a female black widow will eat a potential mate that she does not find suitable. If she decides that the male is suitable, they will engage in copulation but males will often not survive copulation as they can become severely injured in the process. As a result, females also will often eat the male if he does not make it through copulation. This provides her with nutrients and a higher probability of her own reproductive success — thus the namesake black “widow.” Because of their courtship behavior, females often live much longer than males (between one and three years).

Western black widows are venomous creatures and will inject venom through their fangs, which causes prey to become paralyzed for consumption. Contrary to belief, a Western black widow’s bite is very unlikely to be fatal for humans but it can cause a variety of side effects ranging from mild irritation and sweating at the sight of the bite or death caused by lung or heart failure (usually in people younger than 16 or older than 60). However, it is better to be safe than sorry and get your black widow bite checked out by a doctor if you are bitten.