Don’t be afraid: Why you shouldn’t kill most South Carolina spiders
There are more than 600 species of spiders in the Carolinas, but don’t let that fact freak you out too much.
“They’re all predators, but there are only a handful that are dangerous to people at some level,” Eric Benson, Ph.D. professor and extension entomologist at Clemson University, said.
There are four types of venomous spider you need to know about.
Fear the widows
In South Carolina, there are three species of widow spiders you need to stay away from: the southern black widow, the northern black widow and the brown widow.
“All the widow species are fairly reticent to bite,” said Benson. “But people do get bitten by them. If I were bitten by one I would go see the doctor, but the chances of you dying are almost zero.”
Widows prefer to spend their time in crawlspaces, water meter boxes, wood piles, and other secluded areas.
“They’re not usually wandering around and they’re not looking to bite you,” said Benson.
If you are working in areas where widows might congregate, or reaching into an area where one might be hiding, Benson recommends using caution by looking before you reach or wearing gloves.
Southern Black Widow
“This is the classic shiny shape with the red hourglass on it” said Benson.
Female southern black widows exhibit the well-known hourglass shape while males do not, instead having red spots on the top or bottom of their abdomen.
Southern widow egg sacs are beige in color and on average slightly smaller in diameter than a dime. These sacs usually contain over 200 eggs and the spiderlings that hatch from them are initially without any of the distinct markings associated with widows.
Northern Black Widow
This cousin of the southern black widow is similar in color and size, but instead of an hourglass, the red on its body shows as splotches or dots. Sometimes the marks will look like an hourglass split in the middle, or an incomplete hourglass.
Northern widow egg sacs are pear shaped and smooth. They can contain up to 200 eggs, less than the sacs of their southern counterpart.
This variation of widow first made its appearance in the palmetto state in the late 90s.
“It’s actually quite a pretty spider if you look at it,” said Benson.
Brown widow males are 1/3 the size of females, making them the smallest of all widow males in the Lowcountry.
A brown widow’s egg sacs are similar in color to those of the southern and northern widows, but they are covered in spikes, which is a stark contrast to the smooth egg sacs of their relatives.
The odd spider out: Brown Recluse
The brown recluse is the only non-widow appearing on this list and the last of the venomous spiders that might conceivably trouble people in the Lowcountry, though it isn’t very likely.
“There are a lot of myths and misinformation about the brown recluse spider,” Said Benson. “It is exceedingly rare in South Carolina.”
The southern house spider, a harmless common spider that shares many of the brown recluse’s physical characteristics, is often confused with its venomous counterpart.
Brown recluse spiders can be identified by their light brown to yellow color, their relatively small bodies, and their very long legs. The key way to identify them, though, is that brown recluses have six eyes, not eight.
Unlike widows, the brown recluse produces egg masses instead of egg sacs. They are flat on the bottom and curved on top. Compared to the hundreds of spiderlings in a widow’s egg sac, the egg mass of a brown recluse contains roughly 40.
How can you get rid of them?
The best way to ensure that you do not play host to venomous spiders is to keep your home clean and free of any insects that a spider might want to eat. Reducing access to food in your home will help deter spiders. This can be done not just through cleanliness but through a variety of insecticidal sprays containing pyrethrin, which will take care of spiders as well.
Part of your cleaning regimen should include brushing or vacuuming away any spiders, webs, or egg sacs/masses you might come across.
Of course, there is another, far less comfortable option available to people who find spiders in their home. Leave them be.
“Spiders are beneficial. They’re predators. They’re helping to control pests,” said Benson. “Would I want 100 in my bedroom? No. But they’re beneficial predators in the ecosystem. Usually we try to advise people to leave spiders alone.”