Latrodectus hesperus

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Latrodectus hesperus
Black Widow making web.jpeg
Latrodectus hesperus female
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Chelicerata
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Infraorder: Araneomorphae
Family: Theridiidae
Genus: Latrodectus
L. hesperus
Binomial name
Latrodectus hesperus

Latrodectus hesperus, the western black widow spider or western widow, is a venomous spider species found in western regions of North America. The female's body is 14–16 mm (1/2 in) in length and is black, often with an hourglass-shaped red mark on the lower abdomen. This "hourglass" mark can be yellow, and on rare occasions, white. The male of the species is around half this length and generally a tan color with lighter striping on the abdomen. The population was previously described as a subspecies of Latrodectus mactans and it is closely related to the northern species Latrodectus variolus. The species, as with others of the genus, build irregular or "messy" webs: Unlike the spiral webs or the tunnel-shaped webs of other spiders, the strands of a Latrodectus web have no apparent organization.

Female black widows have potent venom containing a neurotoxin active against a range of mammals. (See latrodectism.) Symptoms are pain, nausea, goosebumps, and localized sweating. Fatalities have been reported at between 0.5% and 12%.[2] The female's consumption of the male after courtship, a cannibalistic and suicidal behavior observed in Latrodectus hasseltii (Australia's redback),[3] is rare in this species. Male western widows may breed several times during their relatively short lifespans.[4] Males are known to show preference for mating with well-fed females over starved ones, taking cues from the females' webs.[5]


Latrodectus hesperus can be found in western regions of North America. In Canada it can be found from British Columbia to Manitoba. They are most commonly found near the Canada-US border, as well less commonly throughout prairies regions of the Canadian Prairies in Western Canada.[6][7]

Sexual behavior[edit]

Female stimulates by contact with male webs Male and female Latrodectus hesperus produce sexually specific scents which are combined with their silk; each sex responds by initiating mating when it comes in contact with a web of the opposite sex.[8]


Male western black widow: This image shows the enlarged palpal organs (large dark disks) at the tip of the pedipalps and the spider's eight eyes when the image is expanded.

Latrodectus hesperus frequently hangs upside down near center of the web and waits for any insects to enter the web to attack. It bites its victim then wraps it in silk.[citation needed]


Latrodectus hesperus has a few parasites or predators known to affect them; parasites include wasps in the family Scelionidae and flies in the family Acroceridae, and flies in the genus Pseudogaurax, while the most common predator is the wasp Chalybion californicum.[citation needed]

Interactions with humans[edit]

Latrodectus hesperus often live in human dwellings, usually in cluttered dark areas. It has poor eyesight, and detects danger by silk vibration.

Only female spiders have venom glands large enough for a bite to be harmful and require medical treatment.[citation needed]


The ultimate strength and other physical properties of L. hesperus silk were found to be similar to the properties of silk from orb-weaving spiders that had been tested in other studies. The ultimate strength for the three kinds of silk measured in the study was about 1000 MPa. The ultimate strength reported in a previous study for Nephila edulis was 1290±160 MPa[9] (The ultimate strength of mild steel is about 800 MPa.)

In 2018, researchers at Northwestern University and San Diego State University concluded that the spider's silk fibers are originated from hierarchical spidroin micellar nanoparticles, which could improve the practical applications of the same process in producing better textiles for military and athletes, and improving building materials.[10]



  1. ^ "Taxon details Latrodectus hesperus Chamberlin & Ivie, 1935". World Spider Catalog. Natural History Museum Bern. Retrieved 2017-04-05.
  2. ^ Bettini, S. (1964). Epidemiology of latrodectism. Toxicon, 2(2), 93–102
  3. ^ Andrade, Maydianne C. B. (5 January 1996). "Sexual Selection for Male Sacrifice in the Australian Redback Spider". Science. 271 (5245): 70–2. Bibcode:1996Sci...271...70A. doi:10.1126/science.271.5245.70. Retrieved 2007-01-15.
  4. ^ "Black Widow Spiders". Hastings Reserve.
  5. ^ Johnson, J. Chadwick; Trubl, Patricia Trubl; Blackmore, Valerie; Miles, Lindsay (2011). "Male black widows court well-fed females more than starved females: silken cues indicate sexual cannibalism risk". Animal Behaviour. 82 (2): 383–390. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.05.018.
  6. ^ "Western Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus)". The Royal Alberta Museum. The Royal Alberta Museum. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  7. ^ "NCC Black Widow". National Convergency Canada. Government of Canada.
  8. ^ Ross, Kenneth; et al. "Aspects of the Courtship Behavior of the Black Widow Spider, Latrodectus hesperus (Araneae: Theridiidae), with Evidence for the Existence of a Contact Sex Pheromone (abstract)". American Arachnological Society. Retrieved 2015-01-22.
  9. ^ Blackledge, Todd; et al. "Quasistatic and continuous dynamic characterization of the mechanical properties of silk from the cobweb of the black widow spider Latrodectus hesperus, table 1". The Company of Biologists. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
  10. ^ Lucas R. Parent; David Onofrei; Dian Xu; Dillan Stengel; John D. Roehling; J. Bennett Addison; Christopher Forman; Samrat A. Amin; Brian R. Cherry; Jeffery L. Yarger; Nathan C. Gianneschi; Gregory P. Holland (2018). "Hierarchical spidroin micellar nanoparticles as the fundamental precursors of spider silks". PNAS. doi:10.1073/pnas.1810203115.

External links[edit]