Science

Brown widow spider found for the first time in Oregon

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by KATU News, Keaton Thomas

Brown widow spider – Photo courtesy Marci Beddingfield – 1.jpg

OREGON CITY, Ore. – The brown widow spider, a cousin of the black widow, has been found in Oregon for the first time, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA).

Marci Beddingfield spotted the spider underneath the grill behind her Oregon City home in September. She didn’t know what it was at first. It looked like a black widow, but it wasn’t.

“Upon examining it, we saw the hourglass that wasn’t red. It was orange. And the spider was brown and not black,” she said.

Beddingfield says they looked it up online and learned it may have been a brown widow. Beddingfield’s boyfriend works for a local pest control company. A colleague helped identify the spider. They sent it to ODA, along with the spider’s distinctive egg sack, for confirmation. ODA says it’s the first time this spider has been reported in Oregon.

“I was shocked that not one has been reported in Oregon,” said Beddingfield.

Experts say the brown widow is a tropic spider, usually found in Florida, California, and around Gulf of Mexico. On the west coast, they say it is almost never seen north of Los Angeles. Experts are not certain how the brown widow got to Oregon, but they suspect it hitched a ride from California. They don’t think it will establish a population here. ODA scientists are working to determine if it already has.

The brown widow is an invasive spider and it is venomous. Their bite is considered “medically significant,” but experts say it is less harmful to humans than the black widow.

Black widows have a shiny, black body with a red hourglass. Brown widows can vary from tan to dark brown, and often have an orange hourglass. The easiest way to identify a brown widow is by it’s egg sack, which look like spiky balls.

Experts say there is no reason to panic. The brown widow is a shy spider and rarely bites.

“Brown widows are not generally as hazardous to people as black widows. And black widows have existed in southern and eastern Oregon from time immemorial. So an occasional brown widow is not exactly a new desperate danger for people to worry about!” said Rod Crawford, a spider expert.

There is also research to suggest that it may actually make humans safer. If a brown widow population were to establish itself, it has been shown to out-compete it’s more harmful cousin for territory, putting humans at less of a risk.

Anyone who believes they’ve found a brown widow should take a picture and contact the Oregon Department of Agriculture at plant-entomologists@oda.state.ore.us or (503) 986-4636.

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