There are hundreds of them, but only 2 you should care about


(WGHP) – We’ve all done some yard work or cleaned up the basement and experienced that jerk of fear when a spider crawls towards us out of nowhere.

While the spider is likely to be more afraid of you than you are of them, it’s still hard not to wonder how dangerous it would be to be bitten.

Fortunately, North Carolina only has two spiders out of the hundreds of species on the List of park services NC that pose a serious threat to people: the brown recluse and the black widow.

They are both poisonous, which means they inject toxins. Poisonous animals release toxins when you eat them.

Here’s where you’ll find them and what to do if you get bitten.

Brown recluse

Many species of recluse spiders have taken up residence in NC, but only the brown recluse is dangerous.

They are usually found in the western part of the state and are easily identified by their light brown color and their markings in the shape of a violin or dark violin.

Wolf spiders, like the one pictured above, pose no threat to humans but can be mistaken for brown recluses (Getty Images)

Be careful not to confuse NC wolf spiders with brown recluses despite their similar markings. Wolf spiders pose no threat to humans and help control pests in the house.

Brown recluses are found outdoors under piles of wood, rocks, debris, and other objects with enough room and space for them to weave their webs.

They are most often found indoors in attics, basements, closets and bathrooms. They can also hide in storage boxes, shoes, clothing, sheets, papers, tires, and under undamaged furniture anywhere in a home.

To test for brown recluses, you can purchase sticky test strips at any home improvement store. The bands cost around $ 1 and you place them in the corners of your house.

Brown recluse range map (source: spiderbytes.org)
Brown recluse range map (source: spiderbytes.org)

Although a brown recluse bite can potentially lead to death, recluse spiders are not aggressive and few bites have been reported. Only two children were bitten by brown recluses in North Carolina, according to one North Carolina State University report.

Brown recluse bites don’t always hurt right away, so you might not even know you’ve been bitten until you start noticing symptoms which include:

  • red skin that may blister
  • itch
  • mild pain
  • an open wound
  • tissue that begins to break down about a week after the bite

Some people may have a whole body reaction with the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • chills
  • rash all over the body
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • articular pain

To treat the bite area, apply a damp cloth. Do not apply a tourniquet as it may cause more harm than good. Try to identify the spider if you are not sure whether a brown recluse has bitten you.

A healthcare professional diagnoses a spider bite during a physical exam. You should be ready to answer questions about when and where the bite occurred.

Bites that do not cause necrosis (dead skin) are treated with a cold compress, elevating the bitten area and moving it as little as possible.

Bites that cause open wounds and dead skin are treated by removing the dead skin from the wound and possibly skin grafting to replace it if necessary.

Black Widow

The Black Widow’s red hourglass markings, contrasting with her dark, shiny body, make her one of North Carolina’s most immediately identifiable spiders.

It is important to know that only adult black widows have the signature marks. Young spiders are beige / gray and have orange and white stripes along their abdomen.

Male black widows are smaller than females and have red and white markings on the back of the abdomen similar to those of young spiders.

Three different types of black widows can be found in North Carolina, according to a North Carolina State University:

  • Northern black widow
  • southern black widow
  • Brown widow
Close-up of black widows and spiders (Getty Images)
Close-up of black widows and spiders (Getty Images)

The brown widow is a newcomer in NC and we see her often.

Black widows are most often found outdoors under rocks, piles of wood, dense plant growth, and boxes of electrical equipment.

Indoors, they are typically found in crawl spaces, attics, basements, under appliances, and in dark, damp corners, so use caution when cleaning and doing other housework.

Black Widow Range Map (Credit: NC State University)
Black Widow Range Map (Credit: NC State University)

Because of black widow bite being gentle, people have a hard time immediately realizing that they have been bitten. Their venom mainly affects the nervous symptom, which causes pain in the lymph nodes.

Although male and female black widows can bite, female bites are more severe.

Symptoms of a severe bite include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • tremors
  • high blood pressure
  • sweat
  • itchy skin
  • loss of muscle control
  • increase in the number of white blood cells

On the first bite, wash the bite area well with soap and lukewarm water, apply a cold compress, and elevate the area to stop the spread of the venom.

Doctors treat black widow bites with drugs that help muscles relax and relieve pain.

If the bitten person does not recover after taking the medicine, a doctor will give them an antivenom that fights the venom in the spider bite.

Other poisonous spiders

False Widow Spider (credit: North Carolina State Parks)
False Widow Spider (credit: North Carolina State Parks)

The Brown Recluse and Black Widow are perhaps the deadliest spiders in North Carolina. However, these aren’t the only poisonous spiders in the state.

Also keep an eye out for bogus widows. They look almost identical to black widows, except they don’t have the distinct hourglass markings, according to North Carolina State Parks.

The venom in their bites can cause fever, nausea, and muscle aches, but they’re not as deadly as a black widow bite. You should still see a doctor if you are bitten by a false widow, as the bite area could become infected.

Yellow sacked spider (Getty Images)
Yellow sacked spider (Getty Images)

Yellow-sacked spiders are found all over North Carolina and are the most common cause of spider bites in North America, the NCSP reports. Their bites are usually not very severe.

They are identified by the dark brown color around their head and their yellow / cream body.

They generally live outdoors, but the fall weather can lead them indoors where they could be found in closets or dressers.

People who are more sensitive to yellow sac spider venom may experience the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • nausea
  • muscle cramps
  • eruption
  • an open sore around the bite area

Overall, spider bites tend to be trivial to most people. Young children, the elderly, and people with hypersensitivity are most likely to have a strong reaction to a spider bite.

If you see a spider web, don’t disturb it because bites are a response from the spider when it feels threatened and its nest is disturbed.


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