Do we have Dangerous Spiders in New England?

Yes, we do have one native species of widow spider, the Northern Widow (Latrodectus various) which has been found (confirmed) in Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.  For the rest of New England, reporting is spotty at best.  Not much to worry about here since these sightings are extremely rare.  The UNH entomological museum has a single specimen that was captured in Campton NH way back in 1957!  I did not know this, but probably should have since I worked at the museum for about a year as entomology undergraduate. Southern black widow (Latrodectus mactans) and Western black widow do frequently end up in New England as stowaways among fruits and vegetables that are shipped here from all over.  The following link relates to the widow’s propensity to hitchhike. I can personally attest to these abilities because I collected two live Western black widow spiders (Latrodectus hesperus) at my other part-time job during college. (I was a produce dept. clerk at a small supermarket.)  All the most recent newsworthy accounts of black widows hitchhiking into the region have been found in table grapes, so not much has changed since that’s where I found mine, um, 30 years ago!

So the chances of seeing a northern black widow (at least in northern New England where I live) are probably about the same as seeing a timber rattlesnake out on a hiking trail.  Widows are rare in New England, but what about the more dangerous brown recluse spider?  The Brown Recluse spider is not native to New England, but from time to time, brown recluse spiders (Loxosceles reclusa) do arrive here as stowaways in household furnishings as people relocate, and also from transported goods within it’s native range. It is by far the most common (therefore important) of the dozen or so species of recluse spiders and occupies a large swath of states in the south central region of the Midwest.  A noteworthy species of recluse spider is the non-native Chilean brown spider, (Loxosceles laeta) because it is larger and considered to be the most dangerous of the group.  It too is an accomplished stowaway, and has become established in a small area of southern California.  A small population of this species was once found (and later destroyed) in the basement of Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

So, that is pretty much the story on dangerous spiders in New England, but I didn’t’ mention the Yellow Sac Spider (Cheiracanthium inclusum).  Stay tuned!!

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Comments

  1. Charlie Gordon says:

    Hi Chris, I was in the woods camping out in Western Mass and I saw what I thought was a baby Black Widow Spider, I could be completely mistaken, as it was very small. I saw what looked like a red hourglass shape on its abdomen. When I lived in Oklahoma I ran across some Black Widows, Brown Recluse and Wolf Spiders, I had to destroy them due to my small children. Black Widows are a beautiful creature.

  2. I live in Western MA. I have seen my share of spiders, but had a recent encounter with a spider that I have been unable to identify. One morning in my bathroom, I noticed the beginnings of a fairly thick, messy, almost cottony looking spider web, peeking out from behind my bathroom sink. I took a tissue, wiped it away & that was that until the next morning.The next morning the web was back, only larger this time. I had no time to look under the sink, so I again wiped the web away & went on my way. The next morning again….voila….web returned. Since it was time to go to work, I again reached for a tissue to wipe the web away. But this time something happened. I barely touched the tissue to the web when a fairly large (size of a quarter in diameter), black, feisty, spider came scurrying out from behind the bathroom sink. It resembled the black widows that I have seen in photos, but I didn’t see any red markings on this spider. It’s legs were fairly long & they were jointed fairly high on the body. It’s shiny black body was very round. Just as I touched the tissue to the web, out he scurried, stood up on his 2 black legs, & began wiggling his front legs at me. His 8 eyes appeared to twirl in circles as it looked at me & it’s fairly large mandibles seemed to clack away at me, as if he were very determined to bite me. I looked through pics online. The only spider that came close to resembling the spider I saw is the black widow. But since the spider I saw contained no red on its body & since I live in Western Mass., it’s hard to believe it’s a black widow. Any ideas?

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