Spider alert turns out to be false alarm

  • The brown widow spider that caused some alarm (Photograph supplied by Jamaka Gibbons)

    The brown widow spider that caused some alarm (Photograph supplied by Jamaka Gibbons)

A spider feared to be a poisonous black widow was yesterday identified as a less toxic brown widow, which is common on the island.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the spider, spotted by a member of the public in a building on Hermitage Road, Devonshire, was not a threat.

A spokeswoman said “they are quite common in Bermuda and not considered medically significant”.

Department staff visited the site where the spider was found, but did not see any more widow spiders.

Black widow spiders, which arrived on the island in shipments, have been spotted in the past but are not usually found on the island.

Jamaka Gibbons alerted the department that he saw what he thought was a black widow spider on Monday.

Mr Gibbons said, based on the description of a black widow spider, he was convinced it was one.

He added: “I saw the spider in the corner of the building and I pulled it down. The minute I saw it, I knew it was a black widow spider. I saw the red hour glass underneath it.”

Claire Jessey, the department’s plant protection officer, said over the years people had turned in brown widow spider sconcerned that they were the black widow variety.

Ms Jessey said “The black widow spiders are not known to be established on the island, however, their cousins, the brown widows, are present in every parish and have been for many decades.

She added: “The brown widow spider is not considered to be a dangerous spider in spite of its toxic venom because they are extremely timid and reluctant to bite, so their presence should not itself be cause for alarm.”

But she warned that, because of the chance of an unpleasant reaction to a bite, they should not be handled.

Mr Jessey added that people could have a moderate to severe reaction to black widow bites and should seek medical attention, although fatalities were rare.

Ms Jessey said it was important for people to know the difference between the two types of widow spiders.

She said egg sacs, found in the centre of the web, were the best way to distinguish them.

The black widow egg sac is round to pear shaped, white or cream coloured, with a smooth surface, while the brown widow egg sac is off-white to tan, round with tufts of silk sticking out, giving it a spiky appearance.

The female black widow spiders are 1½ inches long when their legs are extended, shiny black in colour and have a large spherical abdomen with a distinctive red hourglass shaped marking on the underside.

The female brown widow spiders are slightly smaller, range in colour from beige and dark brown to almost black and have a yellow-orange to orange-red hourglass shape on the underside of their abdomen.

The sides of the abdomen may have a few white stripes and markings and their legs often have visible darker bands around the joints of the legs.

Both the black and brown widow males are much smaller than the females and lack the characteristic markings.

Ms Jessey said the black widow usually lived in dry, dark sheltered structures such as garages and sheds and could also be found in low shrubs.

The brown widow spider is usually found outside buildings wherever there is space to build a web, such as under balustrades, fences or window sills.

But Ms Jessey said it preferred dry, sheltered, quiet areas such as Bermuda stone walls.

Anyone concerned about a spider should send a clear image to cjessey@gov.bm or hand in a live or dead specimen for identification

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Published Jan 26, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 26, 2019 at 7:32 am)

Spider alert turns out to be false alarm

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