Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Death by Black Widow Spider Bite

I want to set up a scenario where my victim dies from black widow spider bites. I’d like it to look “natural.” How many bites would it take? Would this work?

A tricky question.

Black widow spiders are recognizable by their glossy, bulbous black bodies and the red hourglass mark on the abdomen. Their legs are long and slender. They are found all over the world, and are everywhere in the USA. These creatures prefer dark, quiet, undisturbed areas like woodpiles and unfinished basements—places where “food” is plentiful. They will bite if disturbed/provoked.

There are multiple factors that go into how severe a person’s reaction to a bite might be.
--The evenomation (bite): how much venom is injected.
--The health and size of the victim: children, the chronically ill, and the elderly are more susceptible.
--The reaction of the individual to the bite: some people have minimal reaction, some have much more.
Let’s take for example a single bite in an adult male, and a general reaction.
The bite itself is likely to feel like a pinprick. Within an hour, a localized reaction of pain, swelling, and redness develops at the site of the evenomation. These symptoms can be treated at home by washing the wound and elevating the extremity (if possible). Ice at the site may help.

More severe symptoms require a trip to the Emergency Department:
Sweating, along with muscle cramps and abdominal pain, which can be severe (patients with unrecognized bites may seem to have appendicitis). Backache can be a problem. Sweating, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and chest pain can occur. Fainting is occasionally seen.

Life-threatening symptoms include shortness of breath and seizures.
Pregnant women may go into labor.

Treatment in the ED:
Pain control—generally with morphine.
Anxiety control—with a valium-like drug for sedation.
Antivenin—like a snake bite, antivenin may be given for a severe reaction to a black widow bite. Because this is a “horse serum,” (produced by making a horse produce antibodies to the venom) there is a chance of an allergic reaction. Therefore a skin test is recommended before administration. Giving the antivenin results in significant improvement within a day.

For death by black widow, the best scenario would be an ill individual suffering multiple untreated bites. How many bites and how long untreated is up to you. As there’s no good data about multiple bites, I think you can pretty much create what you’d like. If you intend to kill a healthy adult male, it may take lots of bites—more than the number of spiders likely to be at the location by chance. An underlying heart condition would work for having the bites kill your victim. That scenario could even look like a heart attack, but the bites will be noted at autopsy.

Good luck!

Questions? Comments?
Kelly has worked in the medical field for over twenty years, mainly at large medical centers. With experience in a variety of settings, chances are Kelly may have seen it.
Sometimes truth seems stranger than fiction in medicine, but accurate medicine in fiction is fabulous.
Find Kelly’s fiction at


  1. My ex-husband's nanny's husband died of a black widow bite on the scrotum. He was bitten when he sat on the outhouse seat. This was delicately described as "not a good way to go."

    1. Amber--
      Wow! That is...terrible. Was he an elderly man?

  2. Kelly, Happy to find this site. I'll certainly be referring others to it. Thanks for providing good information.

    1. Thanks for reading, Richard, and sharing with others!

  3. Hi, Kelly. Nice to see you posting again. Lots of information for anyone who wants to write about death by a black widow bite. I myself DO NOT like spiders of any kind.

    1. Hello, Susanne.
      I'm back from my crazy summer and hope to post weekly. I'm not fond of spiders either. :)
      Cheers, Kelly

  4. Great idea, Whitely! Wonderful information! :)

  5. As far as the numbers of black widows in community, I was involved in an incident that could have proven easily deadly back in my Air Force days. We were moving an outdoor air conditioning unit with a metal skirt. Two of us leaned the equipment over, grabbed the skirt, and hefted it up into the back of a pickup truck. When we backed away, the guy next to me screamed "Jesus Christ!" and ran away. I looked under that metal shirt, and the entire area (2 feet by two feet by 6 inches) was packed with black widows. As in there wasn't a cubic inch that didn't have at least one. I backed off pretty quickly, and I believe to this day it was an act of God that someone didn't die that day. Did I mention, I'm terrified of spiders? ;-)

    1. That was very lucky, Cyrus.
      Apparently the spiders loved the atmosphere beneath the skirt!