Beneath the Rocks Lurks the Black Widow Spider

Beneath the Rocks Lurks the Black Widow Spider

Beware gardeners for danger may lurk beneath a rock. Though a rock may be a home to many creatures there are few that rival the venomous Black Widow spider. This spider is one of only two spiders gardeners in Tennessee have to watch out for, the other is the brown recluse. The black widow loves to lurk underneath rocks and woodpiles.

While you should be extremely careful when seeing one they are not aggressive and will only bite when faced with a threat. Of course the speeding boot of a gardener could be perceived as a threat. Very young children and elderly adults are have the greatest risk when being bitten by a black widow. In fact less than 1% of all black widow bites are fatal. The bite itself is usually painless and not noticeable but the toxin that they inject can be extremely dangerous. Among several other possible symptoms black widow venom can cause leg cramps, muscle cramps in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, sweating and muscle tremors. Not a very pleasant experience!

Black widow females are all black with a red hourglass shaped marking on their abdomen. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good shot of that feature, my subject wouldn’t cooperate. I was gathering rocks to use for stone edging in my garden and flipped a larger limestone rock over and found this black widow. I suspect that the safest way to sort through rock piles would be to turn them over and check for black widow spiders before picking the stone up. Even though bites are rare, I still don’t want to be in that 1%!

An interesting fact that I read on the Virginia Cooperative Extension fact sheet about Black widows is that the number of bites from black widows has probably dropped since the use of outhouses declined! Apparently black widows like to nest in outhouses since they are typically warm and dry places with lots of insects. It’s just something you might want to think about the next time you’re in the outhouse!


Dave has written since 2007. He gardens on an acre and a half where he raises his 4 children. He enjoys growing vegetables, herbs, and propagating plants. Dave has a side business growing and selling heirloom vegetables and herb plants through Blue Shed Gardens and works as a real estate agent in Spring Hill, TN.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Eeek! I’m oh so glad I can’t see your photos just now (that’s a Blogger hiccough today, I believe) — just reading about them gives me the willies. 🙂

  2. Thanks for posting this. I knew about black widows, but didn’t know much about them. I thought the bite would be painful. Hmmm, this is even more sneaky.

  3. We don’t have black widows in Nova Scotia that I’m aware of, thank goodness. Great shots! Thanks for sharing Dave!

  4. I never think of BWS in the garden…I do think of snakes in the rock piles, but not spiders!


  5. A great reminder Dave! I usually just pick up Rocks or Bricks and never think twice about it. I do normally have on gloves though, but flipping them over first is a great idea!

  6. Outhouses Dave!!!! I didn’t know anyone knew what they were but us senior citizens. 1 hole ok, 2 holler you were up town. Seriously, it is wise to flip rocks over first. Anything could be hiding under it.
    Thanks for the reminder.
    I have little black spiders with red on their sides making webs amongst my flowers. I wonder what kind they could be. I always knock them down before I stick my hand near the flowers.

  7. Dave, I found a whole bunch of these in my water meter box one summer. I warned the meter reader and tried to take care of them.

    Lola, My grandfather had an outhouse in his house (barn attached to the house) and I still have fond memories of it, if you can call it that-maybe more sentimental.

  8. Yes Tina it brings back fond memories. Funny for us we use to keep our pet rabbit in the outhouse. You should hear screams from ladies. We kids had a ball.

  9. Nancy,

    I’m sorry you couldn’t see the photos! I only wish I had been able to catch a glimpse of its underside. Mrs. Widow wasn’t very cooperative!


    You’re welcome! To me knowing where they like to live and that they are defensive creatures makes me see them in a better light.


    Do you have any spiders up there that are poisonous? We only have the two.


    There are lots of places they could go it seems. I was being cautious for snakes in the rock pile but I didn’t see any.


    Gloves are a must when flipping over rocks in rock piles. You never know what’s underneath. Besides it does save your hands a little.


    I do know what Outhouses are even if I’ve never used one! The closest thing I’ve seen is the old port-o-potty. I’m not sure what kind of spiders you have but it doesn’t sound like Black widows.


    It’s a good thing you knew about them! You wouldn’t want anyone getting bitten.

  10. I work outside in New Jersey and my co0workers and I have been it the habit of catching them lately. They are very interesting creature, but the ones that we have here have red spots or stripes on their backs along with the telltale hourglass.

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