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Oklahoma reports increase of black widow spider bites this summer

The number of people in Oklahoma bitten by black widows who have called the Oklahoma Poison Control Center is up this year, the center's Director Scott Schaeffer said.
by Robert Medley Modified: August 26, 2012 at 8:16 pm •  Published: August 27, 2012

Not long after she sat down in a lawn chair, Aspen Handley, 16, felt the bite on the back of her thigh.

Handley was at a friend's house Aug. 8 in El Reno when she was bitten by a spider. The discomfort wasn't too bad at first, but in the hours to come, it was almost unbearable, said her mother, Dana Klingenburg.

Klingenburg, a nurse at OU Medical Center, called the Oklahoma Poison Control Center and described her daughter's symptoms — stomach pain and cramps, followed by pain in the arms and legs and swelling in her throat.

The expert on the line said it was a black widow bite.

“She (Handley) said it was one of the worst experiences she has ever had,” her mother said.

The number of people bitten by black widows who have called the Oklahoma Poison Control Center in Oklahoma City is up this year, Director Scott Schaeffer said.

And last summer, Schaeffer thought the number of calls was high.

As of Thursday, the center had reports of 54 people being bitten, Schaeffer said. For the same time period in 2011, there were 37.

Forty-two black widow spider bites were reported for all of 2010, and 64 bites were reported in 2011.

Calls about the black widow menace have increased steadily in the past two years because drought, mild winters and heat waves are good for all spiders, experts said.

The heat wave helped incubate egg sacs, with up to 900 babies in each, said Edmond exterminator Mark Lasater, known as The Bug Guy.

Lasater, 48, has lived in Oklahoma 43 years. He said this is the worst black widow infestation he has seen.

“What we need is a good cold winter to thin them out. We didn't have much of a winter,” Lasater said. “But I've never seen anything like this — never can I remember so many. I am finding them at every house I go to.”

“They were bad last year, but they are worse this year,” Lasater said.

Favorable conditions

Rick Grantham, an entomologist at Oklahoma State University, said the lack of a cold winter and a warm, wet spring have contributed to black widow invasion.

“There has certainly been more than enough insect food around this year to support a higher population,” Grantham said.

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by Robert Medley
Breaking News Reporter
Robert Medley has been a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1989, covering various news beats in the Oklahoma City metro area and in the Norman news bureau. He has been part of the breaking news team since 2008. A 1987 University of Oklahoma...
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