Black widow spider

Reader Pete Johnson took this awesome photo of the red-splotched abdomen of a poisonous black widow spider. One of my favorite things about this shot: The fact that you can see hairs growing on the spider's abdomen.

Extra bonus: Until checking out this photo—and subsequently reading up a bit on black widows—I had no idea this spider came in brown. The specimen in this photo could be a male, or it could be one of several species that are simply brown widows, rather than black. Looking at the legs, there's a good chance it's Latrodectus geometricus.

Great work, Pete!


  1. Kill it from orbit, its the only way to be sure. Otherwise spiders are pretty amazing.. and I do my best to save them rather than kill them.

  2. Scary indeed, but isn’t the bite of the brown recluse even worse? (I know, I know, Google is my friend.) Another post with a good photo of that one would make a pair of posts that perform a great public service, as this one already does: if you see them in your home, take protective action!

    1. Yes, the brown recluse is worse. I know two people who’ve been bitten by them, and both were waylaid for quite a while.

  3. We have these in the backyard, mainly in the area I’ve setup as my bicycle shop. They appear to me to be larger than black widows, and are quite strong; saw one lift a large beetle with ease, though the beetle in turn escaped. I have allergies, and keep a wide berth, though I respect them for what they are.
    Which happens to be creepily beautiful.

  4. I dunno; the black widows we have (dozens of them) are black and have red hour glasses as black widows should. And I’ve never gotten *that* close to one before, as I have no desire to see how their bite feels.

  5. Oh God. I’ve got to go and spray my garage. I saw three redbacks in there this morning, just putting my bike away.

  6. just had a weird Black Widow event here Portland, Maine. check it out:

    1. It was big news in the UK the other day when somebody found two black widows in a car(?) that had come from the US. They’re one of the most common spiders in southern California, so it’s funny to think of them as news. Next thing, they’ll be freaking out just because there’s a rattler in the bathroom and a mountain lion drinking from the pool..

  7. We have those around our garage, and once (horribly, awfully, nightmarishly) on my pillow.  My spouse saw it run across the pillow, then we COULDN”T FIND IT.


    1. I knocked one off the ceiling and then realized that it was more or less the same color as the rug, the bedding and my clothes.

  8. If I remember my super serious spiderology studies, the males are tiny compared to the females.  And just like with humans, they ain’t as purty.  They’re kind of gray and don’t have that shapely posterior.  

  9. “Leaving lepidoptera…Please, don’t touch the display, little boy, aha cute! Moving to the next aisle we have arachnida, the spiders, our…finest collection…….”

    1. Thankfully it wasn’t Bath, NE Somerset, England. (Where the city in Maine gets its name), I can imagine the panic-stricken headlines now. We do have False Widows over here, Scientific name:  Steatoda nobilis

      Size:  Head and body 7 – 14mm

      Distribution:  Found in most parts of England – more common in the south. Recently reported sightings were in Bristol, North Wiltshire, Gloucester, Berkshire and Norfolk

  10. We have tons of them in Southern California. You can differentiate black and brown widows from a lot of other spiders by their messy webs, the strength of the web, and the fact that they don’t flee if you light ’em up with a flashlight at night. The latrodectus also has a very distinctive “old-school harbor mine”-shaped egg sac, which you’ll find in profusion wherever they live.

    I have a bunch of (disturbing to some) macro shots of these guys in this Flickr set.

    The brown widows are actually a wide variety of pretty colors. While their venom is (supposedly) even more dangerous to humans, they are less able to bite in a way to deliver the venom, and thus a lot less dangerous.

    Also, in fact, both black and brown widow spiders are generally pretty mellow. I know a entomologist who happily holds them on his bare hand when photographing them. I’ve been in many situations where a wolf spider or Johnson jumping spider would get aggressive and/or attempt to bite me, but I’ve never had a black or brown widow do so, even under the same conditions.

    1. You know when you run into a Black Widow web because you can’t cut it with a regular sword, only elf steel from Gondolin will do. For those who have never run into one, that’s not really a joke. Their webs feel like they’re woven of steel fiber.

  11. Here is a shot of what was identified as a male black widow spider I found in Maryland about ten years ago.  For scale, those rocks are grains of sand in the concrete of a curb.  You can see some hairs on its legs, and some damned big chelicerae.

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