Most dangerous spiders not as commonly seen here

According to the Entomology Department at Purdue University, there are almost 400 species of spiders in Indiana.

Since spiders rank right up there with snakes on the list of what people like to avoid, we’re going to discuss two of the nasty ones that reside in Indiana. We’ll talk about some others later.

It needs to be noted that neither spider is aggressive, and both tend to back off when approached. So don’t mess with them. However, if there is an egg sack present, a black widow will defend it.

The two we’re talking about are the black widow (Latrodectus mactans) and the brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa).

To be honest, I’ve never seen either one around here myself. I did see a black widow in California when we moved into our apartment. It was under the kitchen sink with what looked to be a gazillion baby spiders. The wife found them first and ran screaming from the apartment (not the present wife; I’ll note that to save her embarrassment). Two cans of spider spray later, they were gone, and for the first couple of weeks there were no home-cooked meals out of that kitchen.

Black widow — The female is jet black and, including the legs, she is about the size of a penny. They are easy to spot because the underside has either a red or yellow “hour glass” spot. If you plan on looking that close or you can count the eyes, it has four pairs. The size of the spider is about 1/8” for the male, and the female is about 3/8”. In proportion to the body, the male’s legs are longer than the female’s. The baby spiders are orange, brown and white but get blacker with each molt.

They like to live in undisturbed locations, under boards and rocks and in and around old buildings (and under kitchen sinks). She is most active during the day.

What happens when you get bit by one of these? The poison affects the nervous system. You may have blurred vision, get dizzy, have trouble breathing or experience nausea, and around the bite there will be severe pain. Get to a doctor immediately.

This spider gets its name from the fact that after mating the female will often eat the male (unless he’s quick).

Brown recluse — For a small spider, this one packs a punch. It’s about 3/8 inches long and 3/16 inches wide, but including the legs it’s about ½ inch. There are a couple of ways to tell if you have one of these.

It has a contrasting brown fiddle-shaped area on the front half of its back; this is where it gets its other name, “fiddleback spider.” Count the eyes (if you dare); the brown recluse is different from other spiders in that it has only three pairs of eyes instead of four.

What can you expect if you get bit by one of these? It depends on various factors, such as how much venom is injected and your sensitivity to it. If you are in poor physical shape or elderly or a child, it can be much worse.

The pain from a bite can be almost immediate or up to an hour later. The bite can leave an open sore about the size of a silver dollar and normally takes six to eight weeks to heal, if not longer.

Where can you find these little monsters? They can be found just about anywhere it is dark. Barns, sheds, garages and outhouses (wouldn’t that be embarrassing?) are some of its favorite hiding places. If it gets in your home, some of the places it likes are dark corners, the arms and legs of garments left hanging undisturbed for some time (now there’s an incentive to clean out your closet) or beds that haven’t been used for a while.

That’s it for the nasty ones. We’ll cover the nicer ones later, the ones you shouldn’t mind meeting and you will, either at home, work or in our parks.

Joe Whitfield is a naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. Send comments to