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The widow spiders are members of the spider genus Latrodectus, in the family Theridiidae. Latrodectus includes approximately 31 recognized venomous species, with the black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans) being the best known member of the group. The female black widow's venom is particularly harmful to humans (males almost never bite humans). Spiders of the genus Steatoda (also of the Theridiidae family) are often mistaken for widow spiders, and are known as false widow spiders. The false widow spiders are significantly less harmful to humans. (For comparisons with other particularly venomous spiders, see Spiders having medically significant venom.)

Along with the Latrodectus mactans, the glossy black ones with the famed red hourglass, the gray or brown widow spiders (Latrodectus geometricus), the red widow spiders (Latrodectus bishopi), the northern widows (Latrodectus variolus), and the western widows (Latrodectus hesperus) (Preston-Malfham, 1998) are also found in the United States. But there are widow spiders on every continent of the world except for Antarctica. In some areas in Africa this Genus receives the generic name button spiders.

In common with other members of the Theridiidae family, the widow spiders construct a cobweb, i.e., an irregular tangle of sticky silken fibers. The black widow spider very frequently hangs upside down near the center of its web and waits there for insects to blunder in and get stuck. Then, before the insect can extricate itself, the spider rushes over to bite it and swathe it in a silken shroud. If the spider feels threatened it will normally let itself down to the ground on a safety line of silk just as fast as it can. As with other web-weavers, these spiders have very poor eyesight and depend mostly on vibrations reaching them through their webs to orient themselves to prey or warn them of larger animals that could injure or kill them. They are not aggressive, and most injuries to humans are due to defensive bites delivered when a spider gets unintentionally squeezed or pinched somehow. It is possible that some bites may result when a spider mistakes a finger thrust into its web for its normal prey, but ordinarily intrusion by any large creature will cause these spiders to flee.
Widow Spider

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