Respect the spider, don’t fear it

This is a lovely video of a man handling a black widow spider. Really, they aren’t interested in biting you, anymore than you would care to sink your teeth into a mountainside you’re climbing over. You do have to be gentle, though.

I’ve had spiders crawling on me in the lab, and my advice to students is simple: don’t panic, lead them to where you want them to go, and they’ll do you no harm.


  1. Artor says

    I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve handled dozens of brown recluse spiders while escorting them away from the stomping zone of various construction projects. Now that I’ve learned to identify them, I don’t do that anymore, but I’ve never been bitten, as is evidenced by my lack of giant weeping necrotic wounds.

  2. Kip Williams says

    In the late 60s, Dad’s back problems were making him toss and turn, so he relocated to a mummy bag in the living room so as not to bother Mom with it. At some point, he felt a burr stick him, groggily pulled it off and returned to sleep. A while later, he woke up with a burning pain in the burr spot, turned on the light, and saw a dead black widow where he remembered putting it. He showed Mom a growing red area surrounding what was now known to be a black widow bite. Mom got on the phone to the Emergency Room and to our family doctor’s answering service. The rest of the family started waking up.

    My oldest sister put ice cubes in a bread bag and made him keep it there while calls went back and forth between our home and the ER. Our doctor was located, or he started answering, whatever. It was determined that Dad would be taken to the hospital where he’d be given an antidote shot which would make him sick but presumably keep him alive.

    Around this time, someone (probably my oldest sister) noticed that the swelling and discoloration had subsided, having gone from hand-sized to coin-sized. Informed of this, the hospital decided he could stay home and avoid the sickmaking shot as long as he kept the ice on it and it continued to improve. So he did, it did, and the bear did.

    Nobody really blamed the spider. Dad probably rolled over on it and it reacted. My sister had twice tried to keep a black widow (named Snarky) as a pet, but both died in captivity. The awful part of it all is that Dad was telling Bob and Ann about it afterward, concluding with the observation that though he still had the sacroiliac pain, the aftereffects of the spider encounter were nil, upon which Bob immediately turned to Ann and said “His back is worse than his bite.”

    So we killed him.

  3. voidhawk says

    I wouldn’t handle a potentially lethally venomous creature like that, no matter how calm it seems. You can be as gentle as you want, but they’re still wild animals and are prone to being spooked and lashing out. You could handle a thousand spiders no problem and then pick up one with a particularly nervous disposition.

    I know how to handle a cat, and most of the time, I’ll be able to pet and stroke one without any problems, but you’ll always get that one who overreacts to something and goes for a slash or a bite. It’s a risk I’m prepared to accept with a cat, not a predator with dangerous levels of venom.

  4. Sean Boyd says

    I sure wish that had been below a fold or something. I’ve become somewhat inured to the photos of your lab spiders, but I saw that video and had a mild burst of “oh shit”. At least I don’t allow videos to autoplay on my browser! No worries, though…I just got a jump start on my cardio.

    voidhawk @3,
    I wouldn’t even do it with a cat I don’t know, even if domesticated. A neighbor’s cat once bit my dad when startled by some kids, and left him with a rather nasty infection. My late boy bit hard when he was younger…no infections, thank dog. As he got older, if he felt the need to correct my behavior, he would bite gently at first to let me know he wasn’t happy. Silly as it sounds, I’d apologize, and slowly pull my hand back, and that would be the end of it. He trained me well.

  5. eliza422 says

    It’s really cool to see her (?) use her legs to feel her way along the guys hand. Just beautiful – although I admit I wouldn’t do it.

  6. johnson catman says

    I agree with Sean Boyd @4: Please start putting your spider pictures below the fold. Otherwise, I will not be able to open your blog. I already pass over all the spider posts. Please, for the sake of your readers who do not like spiders even a little, put your photos below the fold.

  7. PaulBC says

    One day I will have to understand why I would let a large beetle (say a june bug) climb on me like it’s a harmless little robot, but the spider in that picture freaks me the hell out and still would even if you can convince me it won’t bite. Is this purely my hangup or is there something innately creepy about spiders? Long-legged house centipedes too. Those bother me.

    But even an insect like a wasp, capable of inflicting a lot of pain, doesn’t scare me. I keep a respectful distance (yeah, if one lands on me it’s another thing). Spiders are a whole different matter.

  8. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    OK, a little perspective here. Fatal bites by North American black widows are extremely rare. I think the last reported fatality was back in the ’80s. Antivenom is administered to alleviate pain rather than save life. This is not a death-defying stunt. I don’t particularly want black widows living in my house if I can help it–but that is as much for their protection from our cats as for the cats protection from the spiders. Would I want one crawling on me? Probably not, but I’d probably try to get it outside rather than kill it.

    And PZ, feel free to come spider hunting in our garden next time you make it to the DC/Baltimore area. We have 3 acres that haven’t seen any pesticides or herbicides in almost 20 years. I regularly have spiders crawling over me while I’m weeding. In late summer, when I am walking my dog in the pre-dawn hours, I can often see the eyes of spiders glowing in my head lamp. We also have a huge population of mantids, since my wife gathers the egg cases in the fall and winter and puts them back in our meadow in the spring.

  9. unclefrogy says

    I like all the spiders that live around here in So. Cal. have kept some as kid even had some black widows a few times. i grew up with the fear of black widows and would not be so bold as to handle one with bare flesh.
    there has been a series of generations living around my ally for a long long time I have not seen any this year but that is not surprising they like places that are undisturbed by big animals. the only time I can still be frightened by one is if I find her unexpectedly someplace I’m reaching into or around and i almost grab her by accident.
    all praise to the eater of water bugs and other big pests.
    uncle frogy

  10. olfroth says

    That is a very large black widow. However, as PZ noted, they really aren’t interested in biting you.

  11. Dan says

    @ a_ray_in_dilbert_space, NEVER tell an arachnaphobe about that “spider’s eyes in your headlamp trick. I showed it to a friend of mine who used to love to go backpacking with me, he hasn’t gone camping since.Blissful ignorance is much better. When they learn that every one of those hundreds of green white, and red glints is attached to a spider?!?!?! :-O

  12. Onamission5 says

    I saw a widow spider close to that size only once. Was clearing leaves from the patio of an apartment during move-out, grabbed a pile with my bare hands, and there she was beneath the leaves, rearing up on her back legs with front legs wide. I didn’t stick around long enough nor look closely enough to see if she had defensive webbing at the ready. Heebie jeebies doesn’t even come close! Instead my ex ran to the apartment of a neighbor who was a grad student in the college biology dept and was collecting spiders to ask if he wanted this lovely specimen so we could continue to clean the patio and collect our deposit. He did. Problem solved.

    Today was sitting on my porch when I realized there was movement over my left shoulder. Looked and saw a Regal Jumping Spider coming in for a landing trailing a thread of silk. Apparently they don’t web, but they do use silk to break their fall when leaping upon prey. As there was no visible prey nearby I wonder if perhaps the spider was mistaken about the nature of my arm? It stopped short when I moved and just hung there a moment, dangling, as if disappointed or confused. He’s (mostly black with white dots, pretty sure that’s a he) been hanging about the nooks and crannies of our screen porch since he was a wee spiderling, and I spend a lot of time out there, maybe he’s decided we’re friends?

  13. voidhawk says

    Sean Boyd @4

    It’s true that cats can be vicious little buggers, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take because snookems snookems, cute and cuddly awww.

  14. jack16 says

    P Z
    Have you read or would you review “The Life of the Spider by Fabre”? (@1912)


  15. jack16 says

    P Z
    Would you give a review of Fabre’s “The Life of the Spider”? I read it years ago and think that it would be of interest to your readers.