The Western Black Widow is the most notorious spider in Alberta, and perhaps the best recognized - at least in pictures! The Western Black Widow is an uncommon spider and most at home in the prairie region where it is said to be associated with abandoned badger holes for some reason.
The female Black Widow is a shiny black spider with a globular abdomen, and a red hour glass pattern or two red transverse bars on the underside of her abdomen. At 8 to 10 mm long (about ? in.), not counting the legs, she is a good deal bigger than her wary mate who is less than half her size. Like other spiders in the Comb-footed Spider Family she rests upside down in her untidy cobweb. The completely harmless and wary male has an elongate abdomen with red and white markings on the side. His legs are much longer in proportion to his body than those of the female.
Much is made of the lurid tale that the female eats her mate after mating. Unlike some spider stories, this one is mostly true, but we should put it in its proper context (and stop thinking that spiders ought to behave nicely, by our standards!). Itís not uncommon for the males of many spider species to become lunch after mating. Some males do try and escape to possibly mate again, but many others actually surrender themselves willingly. It all makes more sense when we realize that once male spiders have mated, their purpose is fulfilled and their biological clock is running out. They will soon die anyway. Becoming a meal is one way of ensuring their mate is well-fed and their offspring more likely to hatch and survive.
The Black Widow Spider is the only spider in Alberta that is potentially harmful to people. A bite is highly unlikely to be fatal but may be extremely painful and unpleasant. At one time, Black Widow spider bites were more common than they are now. When outhouses were the norm for hardy rural folk, Black Widows sometimes found that the ledge under the outhouse seat was an ideal spot for a web.
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Where to find Western Black Widows in Alberta
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