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State Health Department Reports New Poisonous Spider Found on the Coast
From: Mississippi Department of Health            Filed 10/3/06 GCN

A new creepy crawly creature is now calling the Mississippi Gulf Coast home. The state’s Medical Entomologist says that Mississippians need to know what to do if they bump into this new spider, cousin to the very well-known Black Widow.

“The tropical ‘Brown Widow’ spider, new to the State of Mississippi, has recently been captured in many locations along the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Mississippi Department of Health (MDH) Medical Entomologist Dr. Jerome Goddard. 

Dr. Goddard has been receiving many phone calls reporting buildings and grounds heavily infested with this new type of spider.

“This spider is in the same family as the Black Widow, and is poisonous to humans,” said Dr. Goddard. “I first heard of a collection of this spider at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi in early 2005 and figured it was probably just an isolated incident.”

A Brown Widow spider can grow to one-and-a-half inches long.  It is brown or grayish-brown instead of black and has an orange-to-yellow hourglass design on its underside, as opposed to the familiar red hourglass design on the Black Widow. 

“That’s a dead give-away,” said Dr. Goddard. “When the hourglass design is yellowish or orange, instead of deep red, you know it is a Brown Widow.”

The good news is that Brown Widows are not as aggressive as Black Widows, and although some scientific reports claim it is twice as poisonous, Dr. Goddard doubts that. 

“One very good medical review of 45 cases of Black Widow and Brown Widow bites showed that the symptoms of Brown Widow bites were mild and tended to be restricted to the bite site and surrounding tissues (not the case with black widows),” Dr. Goddard said. "Brown Widows will not attack if they are not bothered or made to feel threatened."  He added that a Brown Widow will more than likely "play possum" if confronted by a potential enemy.

“They just ball up and fall to the ground when disturbed,” said Dr. Goddard.

Most spiders in Mississippi are unable to puncture human skin, and if they do, their venom is not generally harmful to humans. There are three main spider species in Mississippi that health officials like Dr. Goddard worry about -- the Black Widow, Brown Recluse, and now the Brown Widow. 

Dr. Goddard has looked into the reports of the newest species of spider, which now inhabits the Gulf Coast area; he is unaware of the new species existing anywhere else in Mississippi.

 “I’ve gone down to the Gulf Coast several times and looked for myself,” said Dr. Goddard. “They are, indeed, in many places.”

“The Brown Widow probably originated in Africa, but has been introduced into the tropics almost worldwide," said Dr. Goddard.  According to Dr. Goddard, the spider probably made its way to Mississippi from Florida through commercial imports of plants, food, building materials, or furniture, he said.  

The scientific name for the Brown Widow is Latrodectus geometricus. There are about 30 described widow species including Black Widows, Red Widows, and the Brown Widows -- the Black Widow being the most common of the widow family in Mississippi.

If bitten by any one of these spiders, seek medical assistance immediately.  For control of Brown Widows around the home, Dr. Goddard recommends calling a pest exterminator for a thorough perimeter treatment.

For more information on public health issues, the public can call the Mississippi Department of Health at 1-866 HLTHY 4 U (1-866-458-4948) or visit MDH online at www.HealthyMS.com.

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Brown Widow Spider

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