If you’ve spent much time in Utah’s outdoors or ever had to shuffle through boxes in an infrequently touched corner of the garage or basement, you know that spiders are commonplace.
Utah State University Extension lists more than 20 arachnid species found in Utah, but most of these species pose little or no threat to humans. In fact, spiders in Utah fulfill the important role of controlling insect populations in homes and farm fields, besides providing sustenance to small mammals and birds.
There are, however, a few spiders that can harm unsuspecting Utahns and a few that look scary but are relatively harmless. Here’s how to recognize which spiders to give a wide berth and what to do if you do sustain a bite.
One of the most common species of large spider in Utah is the Wolf Spider. Several species exist throughout the state with the biggest being the Carolina Wolf Spider growing as large as 1 ½ to 2 inches in length (not counting the legs).
Unlike many other Utah spiders, the Wolf Spider does not spin a web, preferring instead to stalk and run down its prey. They’re most often sighted in farmlands or grassy areas and come in a variety of colors and patterns. Most commonly, they’re recognizable by their large stature, hairy texture and splotchy stripes that provide them with camouflage from predators.
While not lethal, the bite of a wolf spider can cause an itchy, swollen bump and some people experience allergic reactions to the spider’s venom.
If a wolf spider comes into your home, Healthline says you’re most likely to find it hiding in a closet, basement, garage or occasionally a houseplant.
One of the most frequently misidentified spiders in Utah is the Hobo spider. This is because its appearance is similar to other common spiders like the Domestic House Spider, the Grass Spider and the Wolf Spider.
A member of the funnel-web spider family, the hobo spider has a brown body and legs as well as distinctive yellow markings on a gray background on its abdomen. It does not have dark bands on its legs. Because of the hobo’s close similarity to other species of spider, scientists use microscopes to accurately identify hobo spider specimens.
Because hobos have “feet” designed for climbing their own webs, they are not evolved to climb smooth surfaces like painted walls or ceramic sinks. Most often when hobo spiders are found in the house they’ll be in a basement, tub or sink. However, they can climb carpet, curtains, bed skirts, brick, and other highly textured surfaces and will most frequently be found inside homes while searching for mates between August and October.
Hobo spiders have long been feared for their purportedly toxic bite, but more recent research has indicated a lack of substantiated evidence that their venom is actually medically important to humans. According to the Utah State Extension, evidence for necrotic damage resulting from a hobo bite came from a 1987 study of four New Zealand white rabbits bitten by male hobo spiders. Subsequent research has been unable to replicate the results of the study and there is a lack of confirmed hobo bites on humans to confirm or deny the possibility that hobos can inflict real damage on people.
One of the more fearsome-looking spiders found in Utah is the Camel Spider, an arachnid found most commonly in Southern Utah, though it has been spotted in the north as well, according to the Utah State University Extension. The body of the Utah variety of the camel spider has been known to grow to 1 ½ inches long, though elsewhere they’ve been measured as long as 3 inches.
With a thick, dark-colored body, eight long whitish or yellowish legs and cruel-looking jaws, the camel spider certainly looks similar to other long-legged spiders, but in reality, this arachnid is something else entirely.
“The camel spider is of the order Solifugae, which is Latin for ‘those who flee from the sun,’” according to an article by Live Science. Some assume it is related to scorpions, but scorpions, too, are of a different order.
Despite their ferocious appearance, camel spiders are not venomous and pose a negligible threat to humans. With their large jaws, they can pack a painful bite, but will cause no long-term effects. Other myths about them can be debunked by knowing more about what they’re looking for. Camel spiders have earned a bad rep for chasing humans and camels, but what they’re really chasing is their shade.
“If a person stands still, the camel spider will, too, enjoying the cool,” Live Science explained.
Of all the spiders found in Utah, the Western Black Widow is the only one considered truly dangerous to humans. Females are easily recognizable by their jet-black body and legs and the red hourglass shape found on their abdomen. Males are smaller, averaging just a ¼ inch long versus the females’ ½ inch average length. Males are also tan with small oval-shaped bodies.
Named for their unfortunate tendency to occasionally consume the males with whom they breed, only female black widows are poisonous, packing a venom “reported to be 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake’s” according to an article by Live Science.
While the venom of a black widow is dangerous, it rarely results in death. The people most at risk are the very young, the very old and those with compromised immune systems. A black widow spider bite contains a powerful neurotoxin that can result in extreme pain at the bite location, abdominal cramping and tremors.
The best way to avoid being bitten by a black widow is to wear gloves when working around woodpiles, haystacks, or areas in a barn, garage or cellar where you can’t see where you’re putting your hands. If you think you have been bitten, try to catch the spider and take it with you to an urgent care facility. Remain calm, as a fast heart rate can increase blood flow, carrying the venom more quickly around your body. If the bite is positively identified as coming from a black widow, an anti-venom can reduce symptoms and prevent adverse complications.
While most spiders look scary, the vast majority of them are harmless. In fact, they’re more afraid of humans than we are of them. When we can leave them in peace, they’ll leave us in peace, too.