Canada's most beautiful, deadly spider calls the Okanagan Valley home

Jaclyn Whittal
·4 min read
Canada's most beautiful, deadly spider calls the Okanagan Valley home
Canada's most beautiful, deadly spider calls the Okanagan Valley home

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The itsy, bitsy spider sat down on my garden hose.

This was not just any spider. My husband ran inside to tell me that we have a black widow in our garage. We are still fairly new to the Okanagan Valley in the B.C. Interior, so I was skeptical.

Could it actually be? Read below to find out what we saw.

THE LOOK, THE SHAPE, THE COLOUR

Meet the Latrodectus hesperus, the scientific name for the western black widow spider. Everything I read previously about the black widow is that it has a distinct sheen to them. A glossy, black outer coat like an arachnid leather jacket of sorts. This one had this look.

Another unique attribute to the black widow is the shape. It has an hourglass-like body with the head proportionally smaller than the rear end. The big differentiator from other spiders is a red marking on their belly. This little (not so little) spider had this shape, too. Finally, the size checked out correctly, measuring approximately at 3-4 cm with long, black legs, this image is straight out of a Stephen King novel I know.

I’m confident that we have a black widow here, but there was one distinct marking that we couldn’t see. We did not flip him/her upside down to see if it had a clear, red marking on its belly. I was too anxious to bring it away from my property and move it to the bush.

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OKANAGAN VALLEY HOME TO MANY, EVEN MORE THIS YEAR DUE TO COVID

The Okanagan Valley is home to the western black widow spider, different from its southern cousin found in the Deep South, and the northern black widow found in parts of Eastern Canada. COVID-19 has had an impact on us all, even the spider populations.

The western black widow in the valley is said to be more present these days. Why? Not as many people squishing them as normal because a lack of people/tourists the past year means it didn't have to battle it out with them. The truth is, they are not harmless at all, I learned.

This spider I saw in my garage was confirmed by PhD candidate Andreas Fischer with Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Fischer told me that "it's the only spider in Canada that can harm us to the point that we should go to the hospital and seek medical attention. But they don't like to bit."

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Photo: Andreas Fishcer.

Most of the black widow spiders in B.C. really look for hot and humid conditions. The Okanagan valley certainly gets hot in the summer. Andreas said that they seek out moisture sources and are often found lingering near garden hoses, like in my case, or on irrigation systems, as well as dark corners or closets indoors when they like to come inside during the fall season. Yikes! Turn the lights on!

WHAT TO DO IF YOU COME ACROSS ONE, AND WHAT ABOUT PETS?

If you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to come across one of these venomous spiders, it is best you do not confront or agitate them. After all, she did just lose her husband...see what I did there? Female black widows have potent venom containing a neurotoxin that can be harmful to pets and humans. Though they are truly not out to get us. They are shy and timid and if left alone, they will not bite. It is best to stay calm says Andreas, let them crawl off you. Do not panic or squeeze the spider or they may bit you.

Some known symptoms from this venom include pain, nausea, goosebumps and localized sweating. The venom is exuded from the spider's fangs and injected into the enemy, and you should see a doctor immediately if you have been bit. Most of the time though they do not bite, but females may be tempted to bite to protect their eggs.

"Death is very unlikely based on a black widow bite, but I would definitely recommend that you stay calm, and then seek medical attention," advises Andreas.

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Pets can be severely impacted by black widow spider bites. They may show signs of severe muscle pain, cramping, tremors, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death. Much like humans, they are given antivenom medications. If you suspect your dog or cat was bitten by a black widow spider, call your veterinarian immediately.

Thumbnail courtesy of Andreas Fischer.