Guide to Identifying Spider Bites

Does even thinking about a spider make your skin crawl? There are around 2,500 different species of spider in North America alone. It’s critical to learn to recognize, differentiate, and respond to a spider bite, since while most are harmless, some can put our health in danger.

Hopefully you never find yourself in a situation where you’re faced with a nasty spider bite. However, if the need ever arises, we’ve compiled all of the information to understand how to recognize a bite based on the species as well as their symptoms and remedies.

How to Prevent Spider Bites

A spider will only bite you if it feels threatened, so as long as it’s not trapped between your skin and something else, it will most likely leave you alone. The Mayo Clinic provides these suggestions for avoiding spider bites:

  • Use insect repellents containing diethyltoluamide

  • Shake out boots, gloves, or other clothing before putting them on, as sometimes bugs will crawl inside

  • Keep your home free of spiderwebs and spiders

  • Avoid storing piles of firewood, boxes, rocks, or other debris inside or outside your home

  • Place screens with tight seals on doors and windows, covering any cracks or holes where spiders may hide

  • Keep garages, sheds, basements, crawl spaces, and attics clean. When doing so, wear long-sleeved shirts, boots with socks, thick pants tucked into socks, gloves, and a hat.

  • If you have to clean spaces you contain spiders, wear gloves, goggles, or a mask

  • If you see a spider on your skin, don’t crush it! Instead, try to remove it gently with your fingers or trap and release it outdoors

  • Learn about the most dangerous spiders and their characteristics

What Are the Most Dangerous Spiders in the U.S.?

There are two types of extremely poisonous spiders in the United States, whose venom is highly lethal to humans. Read on for the most relevant details about these species, including their geographic distribution in the United States.

Black widow

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Although these spiders are found throughout the United States, they’re most common in the southern and western regions. Black widows prefer dark places like sheds, woodpiles, wall cracks, barns, fences, patio or lawn furniture, and other outdoor constructions.

This spider is found all over the world, thriving in cold and subtropical regions, especially in the summer. Its body is highly unusual, with a sleek black hue and a distinctive red marking in the shape of an hourglass on the ventral area. Black widows weave irregular, asymmetrical, "disorganized" looking webs.

How to identify a black widow spider bite

Spider bites are often difficult to distinguish since they are known to cause lesions remarkably similar to those caused by other bugs. The black widow, however, has a distinctive bite that leaves two parallel puncture marks in the skin. The venom it releases is neurotoxic, which causes intense pain at the bite site, followed by numbness in the chest, shoulders, back, belly, and rest of the body.

Symptoms of a black widow bite

In addition to the primary symptoms named above, you might experience:

  • Shortness of breath

  • High blood pressure

  • Anxiety

  • Headache 

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Muscle weakness

  • Restlessness

  • Painful muscle spasms

  • Swelling of the face hours after the bite

  • Excessive salivation

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Increased sweating

  • Convulsions

  • Contractions that may trigger labor in pregnant women


Proper treatment for a black widow bite should be administered immediately by a physician. Seek medical assistance as soon as possible or call your local poison control center for the best guidance.

Some guidelines you can follow while waiting to receive specialized medical care:

  • Wash the affected area with soap and water

  • Take some ice and wrap it in a cloth, then apply it to the bite for ten minutes and remove, letting it rest for another ten minutes before repeating the process

  • If you’re wearing rings or any tight-fitting accessories or clothing, remove or loosen them

  • Keep the affected area still, especially if it’s one of your limbs

Keep in mind:  You don’t need to be in an emergency to call poison control; you can simply contact them for general information. This toll-free number operates throughout the U.S. and is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Brown Recluse

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Although it can be found in many locations, this species is most common in the southern and central United States, specifically in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and eastern Texas. Brown recluse spiders are usually found in dark, protected spaces, such as woodpiles, seldom-used closets, basements, attics, behind shelves, and under decks.

The most distinguishing aspect of their body is a dark brown violin-shaped marking on its upper half. In comparison, its legs are lighter brown in color. The rest of its body can be golden, dark brown, cinnamon, or even greenish.

How to identify a brown recluse bite

This type of bite can also be difficult to recognize unless you’re already familiar with the spider. However, there are some physical indicators that might assist in identifying one. You might notice significant itching or soreness at first, but these symptoms frequently vary and don’t present immediately in all situations. They may worsen within two to eight hours of the bite.

The affected area will have two parallel puncture marks, accompanied by swelling around them. Occasionally a red ring with a pale center forms. As the hours pass, a blister may form, which may burst and then become an ulcer. The skin around the bite turns purple. Failure to treat the bite in time may result in tissue death (necrosis).

Symptoms of a brown recluse bite

In addition to the main symptoms listed above, you might experience:

  • Nausea

  • Headache

  • General malaise

  • Muscle pain

  • Fever

  • Swelling

  • Itching

  • Chills

  • Joint pain

  • Sweating

Keep in mind: Brown recluse spider bites can be fatal, and are more common in children than adults. Children may experience more severe symptoms and complications, including:

  • Weakness

  • Joint pain

  • Death or accelerated destruction of blood cells (hemolytic anemia)

  • Seizures

  • Multi-organ failure

  • Generalized coagulation

  • Fever


A licensed physician must recommend and supervise the best treatment. Although there is no specific antidote for brown recluse venom, appropriate wound care and symptom management usually results in a favorable prognosis after 48 hours. In some cases, if the damaged area becomes necrotic, surgery might be required.

While awaiting medical assistance, follow the same precautions as with black widow bites. It is also recommended that you call the toll-free poison control center hotline, which is available nationwide.

Other Less-Deadly Spiders in the United States

There are more than fifty other venomous species in the United States whose toxins are not as dangerous to humans. Some of these spiders can't even puncture human skin properly. These bites typically cause a minimal reaction in the affected area, such as redness or slight pain.

Spider bites are comparable to bee stings in that they cause swelling and discomfort for a day or two before disappearing, unless the victim is allergic. In fact, spiders are frequently the source of bites we encounter at night.

When Should You See a Doctor for a Spider Bite?

If you are certain that you have been bitten by a poisonous spider, see a doctor immediately. The same criteria applies if you’re suspicious or unsure about what bit you. There are certain warning signs that you should consult a health professional about, such as:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Strong, intense pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing

Keep in mind: Keep an eye on your wound; if it looks to be worsening or develops reddened spots, the bite could be dangerous. If you’re able to catch the spider and store it in a clear container, doctors will be able to treat you more appropriately.

Other Bites Often Confused for Spider Bites

It’s quite common to mistake a spider bite for that of another insect. Physicians may occasionally make mistakes in treatment because a patient may claim to have been bitten by a spider without being certain. The recommendation is, if possible, to trap or photograph the spider so an expert can determine the best treatment. 

The following insects have bites or stings that are similar to spider bites:


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These are insects which feed on blood and whose toxic substance is found in their saliva. The bite usually generates swelling in the affected area, followed by itching that can become inflamed and red. Mosquitoes usually live near still water (lakes, wells, birdbaths) and can transmit diseases such as:

  • Zika

  • Dengue

  • Chikungunya

  • Malaria


Bedbug bites are characterized by itchy red bumps that usually appear in a zigzag pattern or in rows of two to three. Occasionally, blisters may form around the edges of the bite. These insects aren’t normally as active in cold climates. Typically, bedbugs attack at night. Their bites are not a cause for major concern, but scratching the wound can cause infection, requiring medical treatment.


Though more common in animals with fur, flea bites can also affect humans. Flea bites produce small clusters of red bumps. A bite from a flea that has been in contact with rodents can transmit diseases such as tularemia and bubonic plague.

Bees and wasps

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Bee and wasp stings are common, but they’re usually not dangerous unless you’re allergic. With bee stings, the stinger becomes embedded in the skin and must be removed properly to avoid infection. Wasps can sting multiple times without leaving the stinger behind and without killing the insect.

In both cases, acute discomfort followed by swelling is common. The stinger injects venom into the affected area, causing an inflammatory response. Lesions are small, swollen patches with irregular edges. Severe allergic reactions are possible, particularly in children. The risk of being swarmed by these insects is that their toxins can trigger a violent reaction if hundreds of stings occur at once.


Ant bites can cause acute pain, a burning sensation, and swelling. They live in meadows, pastures, lawns, and parks and, like spiders, only bite to defend themselves. The affected area turns red, swollen, and inflamed, producing small bumps with irregular edges.


Like fleas, ticks prefer to bite animals that have fur. They can, however, bite humans, particularly if there is an infestation at home. This bite results in slight swelling, redness, and an itching sensation. The tick may remain attached to the bite area for some time to feed before releasing itself. If the tick is improperly removed or the bite area is scratched, it may cause an infection. Infected ticks can spread Lyme disease to humans, which can affect the joints, heart, and nervous system. 

Keep an Eye Out for Spiders!

Identifying spider bites without having actually seen the insect can be tough. Even health professionals find it difficult to identify these lesions! More often than not, they’re mistaken for bites from other insects. However, thanks to the characteristics we outlined above, you’ll be able to analyze the characteristics of the bite and monitor its progress to determine if it was caused by a spider or not.

It’s important to emphasize that if you are bitten and find the spider that caused it, you should try and take a picture or trap it safely before seeing the doctor. This will ensure you receive the most appropriate treatment and recover as quickly as possible. 
Don't forget that when it comes to smart prevention tactics, SABEResPODER!