An 8-legged threat to hunters

Southern black widow spiders are easily identified by the black, marble-shaped body and red, hourglass markings.
Southern black widow spiders are easily identified by the black, marble-shaped body and red, hourglass markings.

Black widows common in warm-weather hunting

Hunters are accustomed to dealing with the critters so commonly encountered in their outdoor pursuits. From slithering serpents to biting flies, they are always on the lookout for things that seek to inflict pain — or worse — upon being inadvertently threatened. After all, there are spray repellents to keep the mosquitoes and other flies at bay, and snake encounters are typically avoided by an alternate path.

It’s no surprise that spiders are a common culprit for hunters’ annual ailments in the field, some even resulting in hospital visits. A single bite can result in serious ramifications if left unidentified or untreated. Besides, there’s just something about the 8-legged type that so often puts a special fear into the boldest of outdoorsman.

It is this very feeling that struck me with a vengeance the first time I lifted the lid on an Avoyelles Parish pit blind lid to find the underside littered with what appeared as shiny black marbles with legs. Upon closer inspection the marbles were identified to be the Southern black widow, Latrodectus mactans, complete with a number of their tell-tale egg sacs.

Damp, enclosed places like a pit blind that’s been empty since last duck season are places you can expect to meet spiders.

Though the initial reaction may have prescribed setting the whole pit ablaze, cooler heads prevailed to dispatch all visible with a boot heel followed by a thorough application of insecticide for good measure. Over the course of preparation for the subsequent waterfowl season as well as in the initial month of the season while still mild, more than 30 widows were killed in a single pit blind.’

Black widow bites

Information published by the University of Florida’s Department of Entomology and Nematology advises that bites from the Southern black widow and its other variations are common. Symptoms of a bite are often described as flu-like, with potential for headaches, chills, nausea, fever, hypertension, shortness of breath, cramping, muscle pain and severe abdominal pain. Similar symptoms are often observed from the bite of a Brown Recluse spider as well.

While the initial sighting of the tell-tale round black abdomen and red hour-glass may be particularly jarring, bites for otherwise healthy adults may be addressed with pain-management medications as well as general wound care to prevent infection. Only in the event of a particularly severe reaction would antivenin be administered, and most bite victims recover within a couple of days.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, approximately 2,200 people are bitten in the United States by black widows every year; however, there hasn’t been a fatality since 1983.

What should hunters do?

Unfortunately, when hunters head afield, spiders have an affinity for the same places, including pit blinds, as I’ve discovered on multiple occasions. Deer stands, sheds, garages, wood piles and other dark places are prime habitat for a widow to make a home, as well as other spider species common to our region.

Shaking out shoes and boots stored outdoors before slipping on is also recommended, especially that pair of knee boots or waders that have hung in the shed for the entire offseason. For hunters heading out this month to brush teal blinds or prepare stands for early bow season, wearing gloves can also go a long way in preventing a bite.

When it comes to eradication, be sure to choose a treatment that is specific to spiders, as the active ingredient in many sprays can be minimally effective on them, despite performing well on insects. Homemade vinegar solutions are reported to be effective as well, without the chemical dosing. Including liquid soap in the homemade mixture helps with adhesion to your target, be it preventative application in likely habitats or directly upon the spiders themselves.

Though the symptoms of an untimely bite can be managed, a bit of awareness and prevention can go a long way in keeping the arachnids from your favorite fall locales. Next time you slide that pit blind lid or swing open the box stand door, keep an eye out for black marbles that seem strangely out of place.