Hundreds of species of spiders live in NC, but you only need to worry about these 2

North Carolina news

(WGHP) — We’ve all been doing yard work or cleaning out the basement and experienced that jolt of fear when a spider crawls out from nowhere right towards us.

While it’s likely the spider is more afraid of you than you are them, it’s still difficult not to wonder how dangerous being bitten would be.

Fortunately, North Carolina only has two spiders out of the hundreds of species on the NC Parks Services list that pose a serious threat to people: the brown recluse and black widow.

They are both venomous, which means they inject toxins. Poisonous animals unload toxins when you eat them.

Here’s where you’ll find them and what to do if you get bit.

Brown Recluse

  • Brown recluse spider (Getty Images)
  • Brown recluse spider (Getty Images)
  • Closeup of a large brown recluse spider, missing two legs (Getty Images)
  • Closeup of a large brown recluse spider casting a long shadow (Getty Images)
  • Small brown recluse spider crossing a wooden board (Getty Images)
  • Small brown recluse spider climbing a wall (Getty Images)
  • Brown recluse captured in bucket with small rock (Getty Images)

Many species of recluse spiders call NC home, but only the brown recluse is dangerous.

They are usually found in the western part of the state and are easily identifiable by their light-brown color and dark violin or fiddle-shaped marking.

Lycosa erythrognatha wolf spider (Getty Images)
Wolf spiders, like the one pictured above, pose no threat to humans but may be mistaken for brown recluses (Getty Images)

Be careful not to confuse any of the wolf spiders in NC with brown recluses despite their similar markings. Wolf spiders do not pose any threat to people and help with pest control around the home.

Brown recluses are found outdoors under wood piles, rocks, debris and other objects with enough room and undisturbed space for them to weave their webs.

They’re most commonly found indoors in attics, basements, storage spaces and bathrooms. They can also hide in storage boxes, shoes, clothing, linens, papers, tires and beneath undisturbed furniture anywhere in a home.

To test for brown recluses, you can buy sticky test strips at any home improvement store. The strips cost around $1, and you place them in the corners of your home.

Brown recluse range map (source: spiderbytes.org)
Brown recluse range map (source: spiderbytes.org)

Although a brown recluse bite can potentially result in death, recluse spiders are not aggressive, and few bites have been reported. Only two children have been bitten by brown recluses in NC, according to an NC State University report.

Brown recluse bites don’t always hurt right away, so you might not even know you’ve been bitten until you start noticing symptoms which include:

  • red skin that may blister
  • itching
  • mild pain
  • an open sore
  • tissue that starts to break down about a week after the bite

Some people may have a whole-body reaction with the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • chills
  • skin rash all over the body
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • joint pain

To treat the bite area, apply a wet cloth. Do not apply a tourniquet since it could cause more harm than benefit. Try to identify the spider if you’re not sure if a brown recluse bit you.

A medical professional diagnoses a spider bite during a physical examination. You should be ready to answer questions about when and where the bite happened.

Bites that don’t cause necrosis (dead skin) are treated with a cold compress, by elevating the bitten area and by moving it as little as possible.

Bites that do cause open sores and dead skin are treated by removing the dead skin from the sore and possibly a skin graft to replace it if necessary.

Black Widow

  • A female black widow spider (Latrodectus), hanging upside-down in her web, showing the red hourglass marking (Getty Images)
  • Ventral view of female western black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperus, on portion of typical tangle web (Getty Images)
  • A female Black Widow (latrodectus hesperus) spider on her web (Getty Images)
  • A black widow spider weaving her web (Getty Images)
  • Black widow spider on log (Getty Images)
  • Black Widow spider (Getty Images)
  • A Black Widow Spider travels along her web (Getty Images)
  • Female widow spiders are typically dark brown or a shiny black in color when they are full grown, usually exhibiting a red or orange hourglass on the ventral surface (underside) of the abdomen (Getty Images)
  • Legs extended and red hourglass showing, a female black widow spider waits upside down in a web (Getty Images)
  • A black widow spider spinning a web in an oak tree (Getty Images)
  • Black widow spider on a web (Getty Images)

The black widow’s red hourglass marking, contrasted against its shiny, dark body, makes it one of the most immediately identifiable spiders in NC.

It’s important to be aware that only adult female black widows have the signature markings. The young spiders are tan/grey and have orange and white stripes along their abdomens.

Male black widows are smaller than the females and have red and white markings on the back of the abdomen similar to younger spiders.

Three different types of black widows can be found in NC, according to a NC State University:

  • Northern black widow
  • Southern black widow
  • Brown widow
Close-up of black widows and spiderlings (Getty Images)
Close-up of black widows and spiderlings (Getty Images)

The brown widow is a newcomer to NC and seen often.

Black widows most commonly found outdoors under rocks, wood piles, dense plant growth and electrical equipment boxes.

Indoors, they’re usually found in crawl spaces, attics, basements, under appliances and in dark and damp corners, so be careful when cleaning and doing other housework.

Black widow range map (credit: NC State University)
Black widow range map (credit: NC State University)

Due to the black widow bite being mild, people have trouble realizing immediately that they were bitten at all. Their venom mainly affects the nervous symptom, which causes pain in the lymph nodes.

Even though male and female black widows can bite, the female’s bites are more severe.

Symptoms of a severe bite include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • tremors
  • elevated blood pressure
  • sweating
  • skin rash
  • loss of muscle control
  • increased white blood cell count

When first bitten, wash the bite area well with soap and warm water, apply a cold compress and elevate the area to stop the spread of venom.

Doctors treat black widow bites with medications that help muscles relax and ease the pain.

If the bitten person doesn’t get better after taking the medication, a doctor will administer an antivenom that fights against the venom in the spider’s bite.

Other Venomous Spiders

False widow spider (credit: North Carolina State Parks)
False widow spider (credit: North Carolina State Parks)

The brown recluse and black widow may be the deadliest spiders in NC. However, they aren’t the only venomous spiders in the state.

Keep an eye out for false widows as well. They look almost identical to black widows except they don’t have the distinct hourglass marking, according to NC State Parks.

The venom in their bites can cause fever, nausea and muscle aches, but they aren’t nearly as lethal as a black widow bite. You should still get medical attention if you’re bitten by a false widow since the bite area could get infected.

Yellow sac spider (Getty Images)
Yellow sac spider (Getty Images)

Yellow sac spiders are found all over NC and are the most common cause of spider bites in North America, NCSP reports. Their bites are generally not very severe.

They are identifiable by the dark-brown color around their head and their yellow/cream-colored bodies.

They typically live outdoors, but fall weather can drive them indoors where they could be found in closets or dressers.

People who are more sensitive to yellow sac spider venom may experience the following symptoms are being bitten:

  • fever
  • nausea
  • muscle cramps
  • rash
  • an open wound around the bite area

Overall, spider bites tend to be insignificant for most people. Young children, elderly people and hypersensitive people are most likely to have a strong reaction to a spider bite.

If you see a spider web, don’t disturb it since bites are a response by the spider when it feels threatened and its nest is disturbed.

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