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The southern black widow, as well as the closely related western and northern species which were previously considered the same species, has a prominent red hourglass figure on the underside of its abdomen. Many of the other widow spiders have red patterns on a glossy black or dark background, which serve as a warning. Spiders found in multiple regions are listed in their predominant native habitat.
Widow spiders can be found on every continent of the world except Antarctica. In North America, the black widows commonly known as southern (Latrodectus mactans), western (Latrodectus hesperus), and northern (Latrodectus variolus) can be found in the United States, as can the “gray” or “brown widow spiders” (Latrodectus geometricus) and the “red widow spiders” (Latrodectus bishopi). The most prevalent species occurring in Australia is commonly called the redback (Latrodectus hasselti). African species of this genus are sometimes known as button spiders.
The black widow spider is perhaps the best-known member of the genus. Its bite is dangerous because of the neurotoxin latrotoxin, which causes the condition latrodectism, both named for the genus. The female black widow has unusually large venom glands and its bite is particularly harmful to humans; however, Latrodectus bites rarely kill humans if proper medical treatment is provided.