August 4, 2023
Male and female black widow spiders are both good looking, but the female is a femme fatale!

Photo Credits:  From left, male spider by Dominique Denson, female by Stuart McCausland

By Mary Reid Barrow

Though they are surprisingly different looking, you can still see a family resemblance between black widow spider males and females.

They are both beautiful, colorful, and just about perfectly designed.

Dominique Denson, LRNow’s Communications Coordinator found the colorful male in the top photo among her vegetables that had come in from her garden.  We had no idea what the tiny beautiful symmetrically marked, black, red, and white spider was.

I asked entomologist Stuart McCausland to help us out. He identified it as the male black widow spider.  Truly tiny, the handsome guy is about 1/8 of an inch long and harmless, unlike the more venomous female black widow.

Stuart also sent along the photo of a black widow female with her egg sac. She is several times bigger than her counterpart, almost 3/4 of an inch long and clearly as beautiful in her own right—shiny patent leather black with perfectly designed red markings.

The two definitely came from Mother Nature’s artistic side.

As beautiful as both are, the spiders don’t live their lives under the spotlight. They are rarely seen or heard, making their homes under leaf litter, in wood piles or in dark corners of a shed or garage.

“The fact that they are not seen all that often,” Stuart said, “is a testament to how much they don’t want to have anything to do with people.”

In fact, the venomous female rarely bites except when defending her egg sac.

Finally, I asked Stuart about the male and what looked like his bulbous eyes.

“Those are not bulbous eyes, but bulbous pedipalps that the male uses to transfer sperm to female,” Stuart said.

This turns out to be a very dangerous activity indeed for the male. After mating, the femme fatale often eats her good looking mate, which is why we use the common name, black widow spider!




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