I was clearing away some fallen branches earlier this week, when I came upon a spider so nasty looking that I dropped what I was carrying and scrambled to find some gloves to put on so I could finish the job.
When I was done, I headed straight to the internet to see if I could figure out what kind of spider I had encountered. It turns out that my creepy new friend was an ordinary grass spider —frightening as heck but completely harmless, even if he had bitten me.
All spiders deliver venomous bites — that’s how they subdue their prey. But in most cases, a spider bite is merely annoying for humans. A few kinds, however, can be deadly. So if you spot any of the following trio, call an exterminator immediately. And if you’re bitten, hightail it to the ER, pronto!
Black widow. This is the deadliest of all American spiders. The female injects venom that attacks the central nervous system, and even a small dose can be fatal. Adult females are generally about ½ inch across, with a leg span of approximately 1½ inches. They are shiny black, with a mark on the underside of the abdomen that is usually a red hourglass. Indoors, they favor sheds and garages, as well as crawl spaces and dark basements.
Brown recluse. Both genders are aggressive and deadly. Adults are up to ¾ inch long, with a leg span of about 1½ inches. They are light brown, with a violin-shaped marking on the back. Young spiders don’t have the marking, though, so look for key identifiers: instead of the eight eyes of a normal spider, these guys have six. Also, the legs are smooth, not spiny or banded. They’re found primarily in the South and southern Midwest. They can turn up in any dark, undisturbed place such as heating ducts, cracks and crevices, or stacks of seldom-worn clothes and boxes of junk.
Hobo spiders. Although their venom is not usually lethal, it can cause trouble ranging from nausea and temporary memory loss to vision impairment. Adults measure up to ⅔ inch in length, with a leg span of up to 2 inches, and they have chevron-shaped markings on the abdomen. Males have two swollen mouth parts, called palpi, which resemble boxing gloves. Females have smaller palpi and a larger, rounder abdomen. Hobos live primarily in the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West. You’ll find them in the basement or at ground level in dark, quiet places.