Along Came the Spiders…

Black Widow spider on magnolia tree

Several gardeners have commented on what seems to be very healthy spider populations this fall. Is it weather patterns? Abundant food sources? They really like ‘hanging out’ around our houses, creating those ‘I didn’t see that web!’ moments?

As gardeners, we know the vast majority of spiders are categorized as ‘beneficial insects’. Technically arachnids with 8 legs instead of true insects 6, spiders are found everywhere except Antarctica with approximately 58 species found in Alabama.

Most of us recognize a few of the more visible ones, such as the Domestic house spider, Daddy Longlegs, and orb spiders whose web designs often showcase trapped flies, small wasps, and mosquitoes.

However, as temperatures drop, some spiders who’ve lived outside in corners and crevices all summer end up inside our homes. Why? Because their prey or food source also tends to come inside where it’s warmer! So we find cobwebs in corners, around windows where flies tend to congregate, and a few in dark corners of closets, basements, and attics.

While many spiders use venom to stun or kill their prey, in Alabama, only the Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans) and its less well-known kin the Brown Widow, and Brown Recluse Spider (Loxosceles reclusa) are venomous to humans. Since both can be found indoors during cooler months, keep a few suggestions for spider control in mind.

The Brown Recluse Spider’s name suggests its comfort zone inside a dwelling–in the back of closets, anywhere that storage is accessible and mostly undisturbed. Its nocturnal habits and shyness make this spider hard to find and eliminate, but because the female can not only go months without eating and only needs to mate once to produce 150 spiderlings a year, Brown Recluse infestations are not unheard of.

Bites often occur when the spiders, trapped in clothing or blankets, feel threatened and react defensively. Bites can go unnoticed for several hours, at which point an individual’s response to its venom varies from noticing a small white blister to the surrounding tissue dying and becoming gangrenous. In either case if you suspect a spider bite, seek medical attention right away.

The other spider that should be respected for human response to its venom is the Black Widow.

While not by nature reclusive, they are solitary, finding homes inside garages, basements, and barns. Reports of the spiders lurking around unused flower pots and stacked bags of soil and mulch are fairly common during warmer weather, therefore check any items you plan to bring inside when temperatures become cooler. Female Black Widows are more likely to inflict bites between April and October, the months most frequently associated with the beginning and cessation of gardening activities in our area.

While a Brown Recluse bite can show as a blister, the Black Widow is likely to resemble fang marks marked by small red spots.

Black Widow and Brown Recluse spiders. Photo courtesy of

Muscle spasms starting near the bite site, chills, fever, vomiting, headache, stupor, and shock are symptoms of a Black Widow spider encounter. As with the Brown Recluse, seek medical attention immediately if you suspect or see evidence of a bite.

As with the Brown Recluse, reducing clutter and thereby hiding places will help prevent spiders from setting up housekeeping.

Remove any spider webs carefully, and if egg sacs are located indoors, remove and destroy them.

Spiders on the whole should be welcome in our gardens and landscapes, just respect their “space” where it intersects ours.

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.chiops

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

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