According to Insect Identification, there are 3,400 species of spiders in North America, of which 13 species are found in Virginia. Two of these species are dangerous to humans: the brown recluse and the black widow spider. The other 11 are relatively harmless and perform useful functions such as keeping insect populations in check. Most spider species can be identified by characteristics such as color, markings and web shapes.
Eleven of the 13 spider species found in Virginia are harmless. Although any of these spiders may be found indoors or outside, most prefer the outdoors. Harmless spider species in Virginia are the American house, arrow-shaped micrathena, barn, black and yellow garden, bowl and doily, crab, grass, harvestman, jumping, nursery web and wolf spiders.
Only two species of Virginia spiders pose a significant threat to human health: the brown recluse and the widow or black widow spider. The brown recluse spider is not native to Virginia and is rarely seen, but bites have been reported. Although the bite is painless, the tissue around the bite ulcerates and dies, leading to infections and complications. Black widow spiders are black with a bulbous abdomen. A telltale red, orange or white hourglass mark on the abdomen is the easiest way to identify them. Bites are painless, but muscle spasms, abdominal cramps and other symptoms develop within an hour. While fatalities are rare, you can die from either spider bite, so it's important to seek medical attention immediately if you suspect a bite from either species.
If you spot a spider inside your house in Virginia, it's likely either an American house spider or jumping spider. American house spiders are small brown arachnids who catch prey in their webs. When disturbed, they prefer to hide in cracks near baseboards to escape. Jumping spiders are expert at stalking and pouncing on insect prey. Both spiders are harmless to humans.
The wolf spider is one of the largest spiders in Virginia, often measuring an inch or more across. They hide in burrows and hunt for prey at night. Wolf spider eggs hatch in the spring, but the spiderlings need more time to mature. They climb aboard their mother's back and remain with her through the summer, fall and following winter, leaving her the following spring to fend for themselves.
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Jeanne Grunert has been a writer since 1990. Covering business, marketing, gardening and health topics, her work has appeared in the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, "Horse Illustrated" and many national publications. Grunert earned her Master of Arts in writing from Queens College and a Master of Science in direct and interactive marketing from New York University.