Arachnophobia—fear of spiders—is pretty common, but spiders generally avoid humans unless threatened. As a result, most spider bites happen when webs are disturbed or torn down or when the spider is about to be crushed such as when it is trapped in a glove or boot. While most spiders in Illinois have bites that only cause a little pain, a little itching, and perhaps a little “Ewww!” shiver down the spine, there are two spiders that can cause a bit more trouble: the Black Widow and the Brown Recluse.

The Illinois Poison Center has an informative article on these two spiders and what to do when bitten. Black Widow spiders are generally found in southern Illinois and have a black body with red markings (often in an hourglass shape). Their bite is painful and can cause muscle cramping, twitching, and spasms within a few hours, but the bite is rarely fatal.

Brown Recluse spiders are generally found in central and southern Illinois and are much harder to identify since they are a plain brown color. They make their homes in dark corners, basements, and storage areas. The bite can cause swelling and actually destroy tissue around the wound. Other symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and a rash.

Should you get bitten, the article highlights these do’s and don’ts:


  • Do clean the area with soap and water. Cover it, but continue to check often for signs of infection (redness, swelling, increased pain).
  • Do remove any jewelry or rings near the bite. Swelling can make these difficult to remove later.
  • Do use a cold compress or ice pack on the area, but be sure not to freeze it by wrapping ice in a towel.
  • Do make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.
  • Do seek medical care if you have more symptoms than just mild irritation at the bite. These can include muscle pain or weakness, nausea, vomiting, belly pain, difficulty breathing, or fever. Also seek medical care if you have increasing redness, discoloration, pus drainage, or swelling at the bite.


  • Don’t delay care. If you are worried about a spreading reaction, go get the bite looked at.
  • Don’t maintain contact with the spider while trying to figure out what it is. If you can get a quick look or picture from a safe distance, that can be helpful, but isn’t required. Your doctor can figure out what to do based on your symptoms.
  • Don’t pick at the wound site. Keep it clean and allow it to heal.
  • Don’t hesitate to call the Illinois Poison Center (1-800-222-1222) if you are unsure about what to do next.

Be sure to check out the article, and if you want more on Black Widow spiders, Brown Recluse spiders, and their bites, the Official Brown Recluse Spider site has information including pictures of bites for both spiders.

Photo courtesy Chuck Evans under Creative Commons License.