Neither the black widow—specifically the adult female—nor the scorpion are among the friendliest of insects. One wouldn’t want to cross either on any given day.
The black widow spider is known as the most venomous spider in North America. Thankfully the female black widow only injects a small amount of venom—so little that the death rate from black widow bites is considerably less than one percent. Still, one doesn’t want to cross an adult female black widow just to be on the safe side. Adult males, on the contrary, are harmless and needn’t be feared. Likewise, young black widows—both male and female—look much like the male and can do no harm.
How does one identify the adult female black widow? She has a glistening black abdomen in the shape of a sphere. Also, two triangles connect on her underside to form the appearance of an hourglass. This is the black widow’s trademark feature. The triangles’ color may range anywhere from yellow to orange to red. The adult female spiders are about half an inch long, and its legs give it another inch and a half when they are stretched out. Adult males are about half the females’ size—but with longer legs. Typically, the male’s stomach has red spots and white lines toward the upper middle and white lines or bars stretching out to the sides. Baby black widows, or spiderlings, are mostly white or yellow-white, and they gradually darken in color.
The dreaded scorpions, on the other hand, have around 1,300 species around the world, with more than 70 species in the United States. Of all scorpion species, only one—the bark scorpion—is dangerous to humans. It’s the most poisonous scorpion in the country. Most scorpions dwell in warm, dry climates; think Arizona, California, and New Mexico. The bark scorpion is lighter in color than the black widow—it is light brown. It has “crab-like” features. It is much longer than the black widow; it can be as long as three inches. It has a skinny tail, two pincers, a tail with a stinger, and four pairs of legs! And unlike the black widow, scorpions don’t bite—they sting. Baby black widows may be harmless, but not young scorpions! They are just as dangerous as the adults. They can inject the same dose of venom as grown scorpions. One fascinating tidbit about scorpions is a courtship ritual where male and female will dance and shuffle for up to 10 minutes.
Watch out for these insects in dark, secluded places—inside shoes, in wood piles, etc. If a black widow does bite, the best thing to do is stay calm and seek immediate medical attention—contact a doctor, hospital, or poison control center. Next, the victim should apply an ice pack directly to the infected area to reduce pain and swelling. If bitten by a scorpion, an ice pack should be applied to the affected area. Scorpion stings should always be treated by a physician.
In both cases, if possible, safely capture the insect (in a jar, pill bottle, or plastic bag) and take to the doctor with you. This may make treatment easier for the doctor since he or she may be able to identify the insect that has caused the bite or sting.