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Spider Bites and Scorpion Stings

Black Widow Spider Bite

The black widow is a shiny, jet-black spider with long legs and a red or orange hourglass-shaped marking on its underside. It is about an inch long, including the legs. Black widow and brown recluse spiders are the only highly venomous spiders in North America. Black widow bites cause immediate local pain and swelling. Muscle cramps may also occur for 6 to 24 hours. They rarely cause death (except in younger children or when the victim is bitten by several spiders).

Call your child's healthcare provider IMMEDIATELY in all cases.

  • First aid

    Wash the wound with soap and water to help prevent infection. Put an ice cube on the bite to slow the spread of the venom. Then go to the nearest emergency room or wherever your healthcare provider tells you to go. Antivenin is available for severe bites in young children.

  • Prevention

    Black widow spiders generally live in trash, woodpiles, garages, and other dark places. Don't play or work in woodpiles, rock piles, or dark corners of outdoor buildings without wearing gloves. Spray insecticides in any area where black widow spiders are seen.

Brown Recluse Spider Bite

The brown recluse is brown, has long legs, and has a dark, violin-shaped marking on its head. It is about 1/2 inch long, including the legs. Brown recluse spider bites cause local pain and blister formation in 4 to 8 hours. The skin damage may require grafting. The bites are rarely fatal.

Call your child's healthcare provider IMMEDIATELY in all cases.

  • First aid

    Apply ice and get medical attention immediately. Wash the bite thoroughly with soap and water. Bring the spider with you if possible. (Brown recluse spiders may be hard to identify.)

  • Prevention

    Don't play or work in woodpiles, rock piles, or dark corners of outdoor buildings without wearing gloves. Brown recluse spiders live outdoors under rocks, logs, woodpiles and trash. The spider is also able to live indoors. The brown recluse hunts at night and does not use a web. Bites may occur while moving stored items or putting on a piece of clothing where a spider is hiding. Brown recluse spiders cannot bite through clothing.

Bite by a Nondangerous or Unidentified Spider

Many spiders can cause local but nondangerous reactions (for example, golden garden spiders). The bites are painful and mildly swollen for 1 or 2 days, much like a bee sting. In fact, spiders are responsible for some single, unexplained, tender bites that occur on children during the night. (Mosquito bites are usually itchy rather than painful.) Many people worry about the tarantula, a black hairy spider that is 2 to 3 inches long. Its mild venom also causes a local reaction resembling a bee sting.

Although most spider bites are harmless, an occasional bite may have been made by a black widow spider. Try to capture the spider (dead or alive) in a jar and bring it along if your child needs to be seen by a healthcare provider. Don't bludgeon the spider beyond recognition.

  • Home care

    Wash the bite thoroughly with soap and water. Apply a cold pack for 20 minutes to reduce pain and swelling. Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed for continued pain relief.

Call your child's healthcare provider:

IMMEDIATELY if:

  • Your child has abdominal pain or muscle cramps.
  • Your child starts acting very sick.

During office hours if:

  • The bite turns into a blister or purple spot.
  • Your child develops a sore that doesn't heal.
  • You have other questions or concerns.

Scorpion stings

Scorpions belong to the same class (arachnids) as spiders. They are found in desert areas. About 20 different kinds occur in the southwestern United States. Scorpions have poisonous stingers on their tails. Most of the stings cause local pain and swelling, similar to the symptoms of black widow spider bites.

Call your child's healthcare provider IMMEDIATELY in all cases.

  • First aid

    Apply a cold pack to the sting to slow the spread of the venom. Do not try to suck out the venom. Go to the nearest emergency room or wherever your healthcare provider tells you to go.

  • Prevention

    If you are staying in an area where scorpions live, check your shoes and clothing before putting them on.


Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick”, American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2012.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-06-18
Last reviewed: 2011-06-06
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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