When it comes to common fears, arachnophobia continues to rank high on the list — and, fair enough. With thousands of spider species roaming around, there are definitely a few that warrant avoiding. (Did you know there are actually THREE types of widow spiders in the South?!). However, it can be difficult to discern which ones are dangerous versus those that simply appear to be dangerous. We’ve rounded up four venomous species to watch out for in the South, plus four that offer up some serious nightmare fuel, but are actually harmless.
Perhaps the most well-known villain on our list, the brown recluse is certainly no stranger to the South, often popping up in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. You may have seen the creature crawling near cracks and crevices in your home, or skittering away as you clean out storage areas. This species is typically attracted to hidden, undisturbed areas both inside and outside (think basements, woodpiles, and boxes).
As the name suggests, brown recluses are usually brown or tan, with a small violin-shaped mark near the head and eyes. However, the best indicator of a brown recluse is its eye pattern. Unlike most spiders with eight eyes, brown recluses have three sets of six eyes. (But let’s hope you’re never close enough to count them.)
While you’ve likely heard a horror story or two about brown recluse bites, rarely does the spider’s venom cause significant harm to humans due to the small quantity produced. However, if a brown recluse does bite you, the area will typically start to feel tender and inflamed about three to eight hours after the initial bite. You may also experience red spots, blisters, nausea, vomiting, severe itching, and muscle pain. If so, bites should be cleaned with soap and water and dressed with a topical antibiotic.
(Note: As with the other spider bites mentioned on this list, you should seek medical attention if your symptoms become severe. It’s also recommended that spiders be collected in a small container, alive or dead, so a professional can properly identify them.)
Often referred to as “the black widow’s little cousin,” brown widows are another potentially harmful spider found in the South — ranging from Texas to Georgia and South Carolina. Unlike their cousin, however, brown widows are typically not as shiny and are spotted with different colors. It’s also important to note that female brown widows are the more dangerous of the species and can be identified by an orange hourglass shape on their abdomen.
While female brown widows are certainly poisonous, they’re considered the least dangerous of the widow species. They inject a smaller amount of venom than the black widow and are known to be less aggressive, often playing dead when a threat comes their way. Scientists also believe that brown widows could eventually displace black widows, ultimately leading to fewer widow spider bites.
While it’s somewhat rare that a brown widow will attack, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of its bite — especially because you may think it’s a bite from another insect or may not notice it at all. If you do notice the bite, however, you’ll likely see red spots on your skin and experience muscle pain and cramps, weakness in your legs, nausea, and vomiting. Brown widow bites don’t typically require medical attention and can often be treated with warm water and soap, an ice pack, or black widow antivenom.
Northern Black Widow
Closely related to the aforementioned brown widow is the northern black widow, and despite the name, it can be spotted in Southern states like Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. These insects are typically pretty easy to identify. In addition to a shiny black body, these spiders have a broken hourglass shape on their abdomen, separated by a series of red dots.
If left alone and unbothered, northern black widows are relatively harmless. They prefer dark, isolated areas, such as cracks, corners, cluttered basements, and closets. If you do encounter a northern black widow, note that their venom is poisonous. However, these widows typically only bite as a panic response when they cannot escape a direct threat.
If you experience a northern black widow bite, you’ll notice a slight pain almost immediately. Other symptoms might include abdominal cramping, sweating, nausea, vomiting, tremors, and breathing difficulties. To treat a bite, it’s suggested that you use a cold compress and seek medical attention.
Southern Black Widow
While southern black widows look much like their northern brothers and sisters, they display one significant difference on their abdomen — a complete hourglass shape. Female southern black widows are typically the ones who bite, and they can often be found hanging out in low-traffic areas outside of your home, including rock piles, tree stumps, and piles of debris. If a southern black widow bites you, it should be treated the same as a northern black widow bite.
You may have seen the joro spider in headlines recently, but despite their alarming appearance, researchers describe them as what might be the shyest spider ever documented. The yellow and blue-black spider is said to have come from Asia via shipping containers and is now showing up throughout Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Alabama.
When the spider was first spotted in Alabama last year, researchers tested the aggressiveness of 10 different spider species — one of which was the joro — by blowing them with puffs of small air. As a defense tactic, most species remained motionless for up to a minute, but the joro “froze” for over an hour, ultimately proving their severe lack of aggression.
Spinybacked Orb Weaver
Often referred to as a “crab spider,” the spinybacked orb weaver is another insect that looks exotic and dangerous but is actually harmless. This spider is typically not hard to miss, with six pointed “spines,” a black body and legs, and white spots on the underside of the abdomen. They usually reside on the edge of woodlands and in shrubs and gardens, and they are not considered aggressive or poisonous.
Yellow Garden Spider
You’ve likely noticed one of these spiders while — you guessed it — gardening. While typically called a yellow garden spider, this species is also sometimes referred to as a writing spider, which references the zigzag pattern the species makes when forming its webs. (The inspiration for a couple of old wives’ tales you’ve likely heard.)
The spiders have a white (or yellow) and black pattern, which can appear threatening at first glance; however, the species is known to flee rather than attack when approached. In addition to gardens, the species is found throughout the continental United States — especially around bodies of water, grassy hillsides, roadsides, and farms.
Southern House Spider
While a southern house spider may not look as intimidating as the other harmless spiders on this list, it’s often mistaken for a brown recluse. The primary difference once again lies in the eyes and body color. Male southern house spiders have eight eyes, and females have a velvety black appearance, similar to a tarantula.
While male southern house spiders are known to appear quite aggressive, their mouths are actually too small to penetrate the skin. You can typically spot southern house spiders within a structure’s masonry, window sills, shutters, and overhangs in states like Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina.
How to Prevent Spiders in Your Home
Whether you come across one of the species mentioned above or an entirely different one, there are some steps you can take to both remove and prevent spiders from invading your home. We’ve listed a few below:
- Remove clutter and keep storage areas clean
- Seal cracks and crevices
- Vacuum and sweep corners and crevices regularly
- Sweep down spiderwebs
- Try commercial insecticides like MGK, CB-80 Contact Aerosol, and Nisus Web Out Cobweb Eliminator
If you spot any of these species, we’d love to see them. Snap a photo, and tag us on Instagram!
For a daily dose of Style + Substance — subscribe to StyleBlueprint.