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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

/articleid/3704474/1/pictures/1809971">Photo - Ray Ridlen, Oklahoma State University extension agent, talks about the explosion of black widows. Photo by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman
Ray Ridlen, Oklahoma State University extension agent, talks about the explosion of black widows. Photo by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman

Black widows are sluggish and usually not aggressive.

“They are not extremely fast. They are web spiders, so they are not exactly built for speed,” Grantham said.

Black widows don't walk well, but they can move more quickly in their own web. People should remember to keep their hands out of places they can't see, he said.

“Underneath an eave or inside shrubbery, you will find black widow webs,” Grantham said.

Micah Anderson, who coordinates an irrigated crop program for small farmers for the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, said he spots black widows in numbers hiding under watermelons and under plastic used for the irrigation systems in fields.

One day along the North Canadian River near Prague, he found himself surrounded while picking up watermelons.

“I've never seen so many,” Anderson said. “I have to roll the watermelons over and look before I pick them up.”

Around the house

Black widows don't often venture indoors, but it can happen.

More of the spiders are being spotted around homes in central Oklahoma this summer, said Ray Ridlen, Oklahoma State University extension agent.

In times of drought, the hearty black widows come closer to buildings and come indoors looking for bugs to prey on. Crickets are one of their staples, Ridlen said.

Black widows are known for the oily black body with the orange hourglass shaped spot. But young and maturing black widows have various molts that change their appearances, he said. Some have a mottled black and white pattern. Sometimes the orange spot is in a different place.

Schaeffer said the black widow is highly venomous, and the antivenin also can cause severe allergic reactions. People should go to the emergency room if they have trouble breathing.

“The pain becomes incredible,” Schaeffer said. “The venom is so powerful it can cause a lot of pain.”

Shaeffer said he expects his staff will continue fielding calls this year, and he will watch where he puts his own hands.

“I am certainly more aware of them now,” Schaeffer said.

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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