How to identify dangerous spiders in the Carolinas
In all the animal kingdom, perhaps no species frightens people more than the spider, so universally terrifying that some scientists have concluded that humans possess a natural fear of the eight-legged crawlers.
It’s no use explaining that most spiders are harmless, even beneficial, thanks to the insects they eat.
But one look at those legs, especially the hairy variety, and most people turn to jelly.
In North Carolina, nearly all arachnids lead lives of peacefulness, posing no threat. In April, Bull City Burgers in Durham even offered tarantula burgers as an exotic meat treat.
Only two types of spiders in the Carolinas can do humans any harm, and both of them avoid us more than the bottom of a shoe.
Here is a quick primer on these venomous creepers.
The saving grace of this ominous-looking spider, with its oversized, balloon-shaped abdomen, is its antisocial nature. Black widows avoid humans, building their webs in tight spaces close to the ground. Wood piles and the underside of porches are favorites.
Not all of them sport the red hourglass marking on their hind parts, and not all of them are black. North Carolina even hosts a variety that prefers to hang its webs in high places with heavy bug traffic, especially porch lights.
Even their name, derived from the female’s tendency to eat its mate after mating, is somewhat undeserved, as this form of arachnid cannibalism is rare.
What it does: When the widow bites, especially the female, its venom is far more powerful than a rattlesnake’s juice.
Still, the tiny spider injects so little of its poison that bites rarely do lasting harm and almost never lead to death. Muscle pain and fevers are common effects.
How to avoid them: Wear gloves at the wood pile or when reaching into dark spaces. Shake off anything you pull from the attic. Empty out shoes when they’ve been outside.
Because so many spiders are brown, tales of flesh-eating venom have mythologized this creature into an eight-legged terror.
But in all likelihood, you’ve never seen one. Matt Bertone, an entomologist at N.C. State University, wrote in 2015 he hadn’t encountered a brown recluse in a decade.
While a handful have crept into the state, probably tucked inside traveling humans’ belongings, they are extremely scarce. Even in houses where they do set up shop, they rarely cross paths with humans.
What it does: While death from the recluse bite is unusual and often misdiagnosed, it happens. In 2002, an 82-year-old retiree in Raleigh died that way, according to a News & Observer story. Rare or not, their bites can be traumatic if left untreated, turning to festering sores and splitting open.
Mostly, though, they heal with care and time.
How to avoid them: See black widow.
How to identify a brown recluse: The brown recluse has no webs, no stripes, no spines and does not live outdoors. Lots of spiders are brown.