ESCANABA - A local woman recently discovered a northern black widow spider while moving a large rock in a rock garden at her home in south Escanaba. Experts say the spider is somewhat common in Michigan.
"You expect spiders all over the place but I'm right here in town," said Kristy Lemerand, who found the spider while selecting rocks from the garden for her daughter's fish tank.
Northern black widows are typically black with red spots down the middle of their back when fully mature. The iconic red "hourglass" on their undersides is present, but, unlike their southern cousins, it is broken. The mark appears as two small red triangles pointing towards each other.
This female northern black widow spider was captured by Escanaba resident Kristy Lemerand in her rock garden. The northern black widow is not uncommon in the Lower Peninsula but there are few reports of the spider in the U.P. (Photo courtesy of Kristy Lemerand)
Juvenile black widows may be brown and often have white diagonal markings on their backs.
Lemerand had injured the spider's leg when she discovered it. "I don't think I ever would have found it if I didn't injure it's leg," she said, adding the spiders move fast.
After capturing the spider, Lemerand Googled it and called the DNR and Michigan State University Extension.
She was eventually put in contact with Howard Russell, an entomologist from Michigan State University Diagnostic Services, who confirmed the spider was indeed a Northern Black Widow.
Northern Black Widow Spiders are found throughout the eastern United States. In Michigan, the spiders are more common in the Lower Peninsula.
"I wouldn't call them common but I wouldn't call them uncommon," Russell told the Daily Press. He was not surprised to hear there were northern black widows in the U.P. but admitted it was the first time he had heard of one.
The spiders are not aggressive, but may bite when touched or harmed. "They don't leave their snares, or webs, so they aren't just wandering around," said Russell.
While less venomous than their cousin, the western black widow, the venom of a northern black widow is 15 times more toxic than the venom of a rattlesnake.
Bites are identifiable by two small bite marks on the skin. Symptoms of the spider's neurotoxic venom can include muscle cramps, abdominal pain, weakness, tremors, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, chest pain and respiratory difficulties.
Because a very small amount of the venom is injected when a black widow bites, less than 1 percent of people who are bitten die. Deaths are rare and are usually only seen in small children and the elderly.
"It's scary because I have two little kids," said Lemerand.
Black widow bites may be painful or go unnoticed until other symptoms develop. Severe cramping, nausea, profuse sweating, labored breathing, restlessness, fever and an increase in blood pressure may result from the spider's neurotoxic venom.
"I just want people to be aware that these spiders are around," said Lemerand.