I have to admit, as a Washingtonian all my life, I have always thought that the only place a person would find black widows spiders would be east of the mountains, as in eastern Washington. Those of us born and raised here know that the "serious" spiders and snakes are found on the hot side of the state. Now, that does not mean that some dingbat does not catch, and bring over, a rattler or two. I remember in my senior year at Bellingham High School, back before Lincoln was elected President, a kid brought two rattlers to biology. They were in an aquarium in class. Some goof let them out and they immediately found a hole in the wall and vanished. That wing of the school was cordoned off till they found them -- somehow -- later in the day.
And, back to spiders, I had a home inspection student who worked in produce at a local grocery store. He said that the widows often come in on produce so the staff looks out for them. Now, all this makes sense as far as humans and our activities moving the species into new areas. However, last time I taught a class in wood destroying organisms at Bellingham Technical College, Dan Suomi of the WSDA was a guest. He said that black widow spiders (long prevalent in Eastern WA crawl spaces) are now being found in Western WA too. I have a collection of a couple of them, preserved, but I have to admit that mine are from east of the mountains. Regardless, when Dan says they are on this side now, and we might see them at inspections, you can assume the information is accurate. As for just how poisonous they are, from what I can gather, it is kind of like people and bees. What is no big deal for one person can be very serious to another. Adult students I have had in the class, who have lived with the black widow spiders forever, said that if a person is bit, you just watch the bite and you, or your mom if you are a kid, can tell pretty quickly whether or not you need a doctor.
The funny thing is that some macho inspectors who will wrestle a serpent to the death if need be, hyperventilate if they see a tiny spider with an hourglass on its back. These otherwise brave individuals have been know to scream like little girls and exit the crawl space in a dither. I guess that is because, in the end, it is all about spiders and snakes.
Steven L. Smith
Bellingham WA Home Inspector