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Are Spider Bites Dangerous?

To some people, spiders are cool.  To others, they are what nightmares are made of!  Spiders tend to get a bad rap and not for good reason! Thanks to movies like Arachnophobia and urban legends of deadly spider bites, there’s no wonder they rank pretty high on the fear list!  You may be wondering, are spider bites really dangerous?  Can they truly be fatal? We are going to breakdown everything you need to know about these seemingly scary bites!

 The Difference Between Poisonous vs. Venomous

I know what you’re thinking, “What? Aren’t they the same thing?” Well, it depends on who you ask.  For instance, the dictionary may list them as synonyms, but in the biology community, they are not quite the same.  In everyday conversations with friends, you will most likely hear that a snake, spider, etc. are poisonous, when in fact, they’re venomous.  So, what’s the difference? I’m glad you asked!  According to National Geographic, biologists classify poisonous animals as those who are harmful to touch or eat.  They use their chemical weaponry more passively.  Think, poisonous frogs, or a pufferfish.  They do not attack you, but they can cause severe damage if eaten.  On the other hand, you have venom.  A venomous animal will harm their prey through methods such as stingers and bites.  They unleash their wrath through a more active approach by injuring.  Why does any of this matter?  Most spiders are not truly poisonous, but almost all of them are venomous.  They have to attack you to cause any harm.  So, the next question is, are their bites really dangerous to people?

Are Venomous Spider Bites Lethal to Humans?

 The short answer, not really.  Spiders have venom to subdue their prey. That’s it.  Since spiders aren’t feasting on people, most bites have little to no effect on us!  I know, I know, clutch your pearls! This goes against most of what you know to be true about our eight-legged friends.  But it is true.  Spider venom is made to affect the things that it eats.  People are simply too large and distasteful to be affected!  That’s great news, right?  Let’s celebrate! Yay!  Burke Museum says there are about 50,000 different species of spiders.  Of those, only 25 have venom that may cause illness to humans, and of the 25, only around THREE could be medically significant to people in North America!  Yes, you read that right, three out of fifty thousand!  That means you are more likely to be harmed by a bee or a wasp than a spider.

Which Spiders Should I Avoid?

 Remember, we said there were three types that MAY be medically significant.  Those are the brown recluse, hobo, and the infamous black widow.  Most of the time, these spiders will only bite when they feel threatened.  They tend to avoid busy areas; so, when a person enters their space, they bite out of fear.  I promise they aren’t out to get you!  So, how can you tell which one is which? What happens after they bite?  We will break it down here:

  • Black Widow – most people have heard about this spider. It is shiny black with the tell-tale red, hourglass shape on its belly. Its venom is considered a neurotoxin. Stanford Children’s Health states if you are bitten, symptoms will onset in around an hour and may include:
    • Muscle spasms and cramps
    • Severe belly pain, sometimes accompanied with nausea and vomiting
    • Increased blood pressure
    • Sweating

Beyond popular belief, death is extremely rare from a black widow bite.  A healthy adult can usually recover without medical intervention, but children under two, the elderly, and those with underlying conditions are at a greater risk for a more severe reaction.  If symptoms worsen or you have difficulty breathing, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

  • Brown Recluse – this spider is brown, no surprise there. It’s in the name! It is usually a lighter shade of brown and sometimes will have a violin-shaped marking on its back. Their venom typically affects the blood cells around the site, leading to necrosis. Symptoms can include:
    • Intense pain at the bite
    • Skin lesion
    • In severe cases, it can cause an ulcer in need of grafting

Much like the black widow, fatal reactions are extremely rare.

  • Hobo – this is a large, brown spider most often found on the west coast of the US. It is known to have yellow markings on its abdomen. According to the NCBI, their symptoms are almost identical to the brown recluse, except necrosis is rare, and a permanent scar is likely.  Death is virtually unheard of and extremely rare.

How To Treat A Spider Bite

 As mentioned earlier, most spider bites aren’t cause for alarm.  If you suspect that you have been bitten by one of the three most “dangerous” spiders, follow these simple steps from Wilderness Awareness:

  1. Clean the bite with soap and water.
  2. If the bite is on an arm or a leg, use a bandage or handkerchief tied snugly around the appendage above the bite and elevate to help slow the spread of the venom. Be sure it is not so tight as to cut off circulation.
  3. Apply a cold compress.
  4. Seek medical attention as treatment with anti-venom or medication may be necessary. 

 Now, you know all about venomous spiders!  You know that they aren’t as dangerous as many people believe, and fatal bites are incredibly rare.  Take reasonable precautions when reaching under furniture or into dark spaces. Always look before reaching to ensure there aren’t any creepy crawlies around.  Shake out clothes and other stored items in attics and garages before moving them.  As always, regularly clean up webs and use a spider repellent like Stay Away® Spiders to discourage these pests from taking shelter in your home!  Now that you’ve learned more about spiders, we hope that you can breathe a little easier when you see one!  Have you ever come across one of the dangerous three? Let us know your most exciting spider encounters in the comments!  Until next time, friends. Love life, live kind!

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