How to Care for a Pet Black Widow Spider

Updated on November 8, 2016

This highly-venomous spider should be kept by responsible, experienced adults only! Do so at your own risk.

Widow spiders are fascinating, often misunderstood animals. As long as you’re careful and don’t take unnecessary risks, black widows are one of the easiest pets anyone could ever care for! They can go for weeks without being fed and require almost no cage maintenance.

Some Cool Bonus Facts: A black widow's silk is as strong and durable as Kevlar (the material used to construct bullet-proof vests), they can successfully catch and eat prey several times larger than themselves, and there are actually 31 different species world-wide.

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Yes, Spiders Are Animals

Before going into the logistics of properly caring for a pet black widow, it's important to point out that spiders are indeed animals. During my time volunteering as a keeper at a zoo specializing in invertebrates, I was surprised again and again by the number of people who did not consider bugs, spiders, and other similar critters as animals. Trust me, they are!

the six kingdoms
the six kingdoms | Source

In the world of science, every living thing on our planet is classified into a hierarchy of groups. The process and organization of it all is called taxonomy, and the highest-level groups of the hierarchy are called kingdoms. There are six kingdoms: plants, animals, fungi, protists, eubacteria, and archaebacteria. Spiders and bugs definitely aren't plants, and neither are they mushrooms, algae, or one-celled organisms. Therefore, they're animals!

Species

The care required by a widow spider will vary slightly depending on the species. In the United States, there are five:

  1. Western black widow, Latrodectus hesperus
  2. Southern black widow, Latrodectus mactans
  3. Northern black widow, Latrodectus variolus
  4. Brown widow, Latrodectus geometricus
  5. Red widow, Latrodectus bishopi

A sixth, very colorful species (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) is also popular in the spider-keeping hobby. Being native to the Mediterranean region, it is difficult to obtain in the United States, though there are several breeders.

All widow species vary in size and spot patterns. However, each one has the hourglass shape on the underside of the abdomen.

Pictured are the very colorful L. tredecimguttatus, the brown widow (L. geometricus), and the red widow (L. bishopi).
Pictured are the very colorful L. tredecimguttatus, the brown widow (L. geometricus), and the red widow (L. bishopi). | Source
a simple black widow enclosure
a simple black widow enclosure

Housing

In the wild, once a widow finds a good spot for its web, it generally stays there. This means a widow doesn't need much space in captivity. In fact, its long front legs makes walking or climbing across any surface quite a clumsy ordeal, so a widow is quite happy in a smaller container as long as there is room for it to build a functional web.

These critters do not like being close to the ground and they will attempt to build their web as high up as possible. It may seem strange at first, but sometimes the best cage is turned upside-down with the lid on the bottom. With this sort of setup you’ll be able to open the cage without the disturbing the spider and its web.

Aquariums, terrariums, jars, and small display cases all make great enclosures. Whatever you choose to use, make sure there is plenty of ventilation. Additionally, widows are unable to climb glass and plastic so climbable cage decor must be provided. Good things to use are sticks, fake silk or live plants, rocks, pieces of egg cartons, paper towel, etc.

When decorating the enclosure, take care to remember: this is a highly venomous species and you should always be able to see the spider and know its location before opening the cage. Don’t use too much cage decor or the spider will be able to hide too well!

This black widow has built its web on pieces of egg carton, a cheap and viable option for cage decor.
This black widow has built its web on pieces of egg carton, a cheap and viable option for cage decor. | Source

Temperature and Lighting

Most species do fine when kept at room temperature. However, some of the more tropical species, such as the red widow (L. bishopi), should be kept warmer at about 75-80 degrees.

As for lighting, normal ambient room lighting is fine. These spiders are nocturnal and generally active at night. However, don't keep them in a room which is kept dark all the time as they still require a somewhat natural day/night cycle.

Diet

Prey can be hard to come by when all you do is sit in the same spot and wait for food to walk or fly by. The world is a big place, so it’s a very lucky day when a yummy bug finally happens to end up in a spider's web. As sit-and-wait predators, widows are adapted to eating less often and can go for weeks at a time without a single meal.

  • Depending on the size of the prey offered, an adult widow only needs to be fed every couple weeks or even once a month. Overfeeding can actually be a problem, as a widow will not pass up the chance to eat when given food, and an overfed spider has a higher risk of having its abdomen burst open during a fall or other accident. A properly-fed widow will have a round abdomen that isn't shriveled.
  • Food items you can offer: cricket, grasshopper, moth, mealworm, fly, or cockroach. A single cricket can be purchased from pet stores like Petco or Petsmart for 10-15 cents. If you choose to, you can catch wild insects to feed your spider but beware the potential costs of wild-caught food! Insects you find and catch outdoors may be infected with parasites and diseases. Bugs caught outdoors may also have eaten pesticide or insecticide-covered plants, or they could be full of contaminants/pollutants if you collect them from roadsides.
  • Widows are capable of killing and eating prey much bigger than themselves. However, there is still risk of injury, so make sure to observe and supervise your spider whenever you try a new type of prey item. They're also great hunters, so don't be worried if you accidentally miss the web when you toss the prey into the enclosure. These spiders are very sensitive to the vibrations a nearby insect makes, and your widow will creep up close to the prey, grab the food with its long front legs, and will hoist it up into the web. It's an amazing thing to watch!

Water: A widow gets most of the water it needs from its diet, but it’s still a good idea to provide some moisture by misting one side of the cage or web with a spray bottle once a week or every other week. I personally have seen my black widow drink from a small water droplet. Take care and avoid spraying water directly on the spider! The more tropical species, such as the red widow (L. bishopi), require higher humidity and may need to be misted more often.

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Safety

Always remember: black widows are highly venomous spiders!

  • Never handle a black widow. Make sure children and pets do not have access to the cage and ensure the enclosure cannot be knocked over or accidentally opened. Consider putting small warning label on or nearby the cage to alert visitors about a potentially dangerous animal being in the cage.
  • Always know the location of the spider before opening the cage. Widows don’t move much, but keep an eye on it at all times while the cage is open. It’s also a good idea to always have a small “catch container” or “catch cup” sitting within your reach anytime you open the cage. You can grab it quickly and use it to catch the spider if it happens to escape the enclosure.

Long tongs and a catch cup are important safety tools to have on hand.
Long tongs and a catch cup are important safety tools to have on hand.
  • Use long tools that allow you to safely work around a black widow. Use long tongs to remove or place objects from or into the cage. Use a long stick (such as a kabob stick) and gently touch the back legs of the spider to make it move if necessary. Use a small cup with a lid to scoop your spider into if you need to temporarily remove it from the cage.

Other Notes

Cleaning: A widow’s cage hardly needs to be cleaned. The only thing you’ll need to do is periodically remove old food when it becomes moldy and occasionally wipe up spider poop.

A female black widow spider with her egg sac.
A female black widow spider with her egg sac.

Unexpected Babies! At some point your female widow may create an egg sac. Sometimes these are duds and the eggs are not fertilized. But if your widow is wild-caught, it's almost a guarantee the sac will produce hundreds of little spiderlings. If you'd like to raise tons of itty bitty baby widows, you can do so. It has definitely been done! But if you don't, here are your options:

  1. You can sell the babies to fellow hobbyists. I've come across many spider-keepers who were willing to take or even purchase egg sacs or large lots of babies.
  2. You can freeze the spiderlings (the most humane way to kill them) and then dispose of them. This ensures that no non-native, invasive species will get out into your local ecosystem.

This highly-venomous spider should be kept by responsible, experienced adults only! Do so at your own risk. The author of this article is not liable and this article does not not contain medical advice. Immediately seek medical attention from a qualified professional if you are bitten by a black widow spider.

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      Frankie J 4 weeks ago

      This is a very informative article. I recently found a black widow crawling past my back door and she looked like she was in distress and was about to die. I caught her in a glass cup and moved her into a mason jar to observe and keep the remains after she died. Later she started to become more active and then I realized she was playing possum (widows tend to do this when disturbed by larger predators). After a week or so of placing little water soaked q-tip heads into her enclosure and feeding her crickets she became one of the most deadliest pets I’ve ever had.

      A few days ago I noticed she started making a egg sac and I honeslty do not want to raise lots of spiderlings so I had to carefully remove the egg sac from the jar she is kept in and placed it into a medicine bottle to deliver to my local pharmaceutical company for them to raise and milk the venom for antivenin. ( good idea if you don’t want to kill them and also help someone in need of antivenin)

      This was a spine chilling effort, widows will become very aggressive and protective over the egg sac being bothered, either by prey or other predators. As for her feeding habit she eats two medium feeder crickets every 4-5 days. They are inexpensive and came be bought at you local pet store for no less than 5-15 cent. Or you can buy them in bulk and raise them yourself for feeding ( they are easy to take care of if you decide to go this route).

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      Charice B 3 months ago

      Your article said that a healthy black widow would not have a shriveled abdomen. Mine seems to be having that problem. Does that mean I'm feeding her too much?

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      Marti G 3 months ago

      I recently fed "Linda" a grasshopper three times her size... I was afraid but when I saw her hunting it down, setting traps and bring it up its web to devour it, it looked so cool! I did have one question, where can I find a cool case like the glass one that you have on this article? Thanks! Great article!

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      Father Time (That Science and Engineering Guy!) 3 months ago

      I Saved one of these Ladies from certain death recently while helping a friend organize some camping equipment outdoors. My friend witnessed a pretty grotesque thing with spiders that actually came out of a human body by the hundreds upon incubation and surgical removal of the mass(Live Born Egg-Sack I Assume) from an actual person (Who WAS VERY MUCH ALIVE during this). This happened when he was deployed in the military in a far away country that I have never been to, and probably never will!

      The whole scene he describes is just creepy, chilling, gross, weird and a hundred other Stephen King adjectives.

      Needless to say,... My friend has some real aversion to contact with spiders as a result of what he witnessed! (AND WHO WOULDN'T?!!!)

      Anyway,...This Black Widow (Adult Female) was cleverly perched under the armrest of one of those folding fishing chairs and he spotted it and brought it to my attention right away.

      Having some experience with these creatures, I showed him how the Widow's Spider Web is elastic (The Only One That Is, I Believe! Not 100% Sure, read that somewhere!???) and the web will pop (Making a cracking sound - i.e. - Pop, Pop, Pop,... You get the idea!) as you run something through it!

      Anyway,... Instead of being a party to Killing the Little Critter (Which was probably imminent!), I Bummed an over-sized canning Jar from him and scooped up the little gal (With a Stick!) and put her in the jar with some sand and sticks and stuff. We poked holes in the lid for ventilation and then I cloth covered the lid for secondary protection. I brought her back to my place and have been offering her flies(Pesky, Biting Ones that have been bugging me and my roommate: SWEET REVENGE!!!)

      I will probably release the little gal in a safe outdoor location away from homes or structures in the coming week or so. In the mean time,... I am determined to try a variety of juicy, live yummies for her enjoyment and nourishment,... hopefully, while attempting to film some of the feedings, but probably not to share on-line! (These Feedings Can Be Pretty Violent and Even Disturbing - NOT Suitable for Children to Watch in my humble opinion!)

      I used to have a 1000 gallon aquarium with a small shark in it, which I also placed most conspicuously right in the Huge Bay Window of my condominium I lived in. It was as a source of fascination to a lot of my neighbors and friends, especially children! (I made an effort to answer questions and offer facts about my little friend "MACK", and feedings were done privately with Closed Curtains!)

      --------------------------------------------------------------

      Father Time Proposes:

      Just because a fellow creature on this planet is dangerous or deadly, DOES NOT MAKE IT EVIL OR A CRIMINAL ON DEATHROW!!! Human Beings are the deadliest, and most arrogant predators on this earth! We gather up animals, breed them, raise them, feed them, and then WE KILL THEM (and) WE EAT THEM!!! Get Over It!!!

      I suppose I am perhaps a different kind of individual than the norm,... OH Well!!! At least with these kind of creatures, You know where you stand! (Unlike Multitudes of Miserable Human Counter-Parts I can List)

      ------------------------------------------------------------------

      I have TWO(2) MUST-KNOW FACTS (Rules if you like!) when dealing with venomous creatures:

      ------------------------------------------------------------------

      (1.) THEY MEAN BUSINESS, Every one of them!!!

      Make No Mistake!!!

      (And Possibly More Important than Fact-1 is Fact-2!!!)

      (2.) You will NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER make friends with one of these creatures! (Observe them, Learn From Them, Live in Your Best Attempt at Harmony With Them --- But Use All Precaution in their presence!)

      --------------------------------------------------------------

      Father-Time Offers This Humble Wisdom:

      We Live On A Big Planet,... We Are Not Here Alone,... Even the Most Hideous Creature has an Important Role in the Earth's Very Fragile Eco-System that We Humans are trying SO HARD TO DESTROY!!! Live and Let Live! I'd rather have one Black-Widow around than a Hundred CockRoaches!!! You are Six Hundred times more likely to die from the salmonella or 60 or more of the other diseases a typical cockroach carries into your home than your chance of being bitten and dying from a Black Widow Bite,... UNLESS you put yourself at unnecessary risk around them! IF YOU ARE INEXPERIENCED AROUND THESE TYPE OF CREATURES, Do yourself a Big Favor and :DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MAKE A PET OUT OF THEM! Observe them in nature, from a distance, or if you're still curious, seek out the entomology department of any major university(They GOT LOTS OF BUGS!) or maybe even your local zoo! These Places have experienced Folks who properly care for and handle these creatures and will be only too happy to safely bring you into contact with them!

      GOD BLESS AND TAKE GOOD CARE!!!

      Father Time .....

      -Amen-

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      KALLIE 6 months ago

      i'm gonna try and have one as a pet only in my dreams

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      John White 7 months ago

      I've got a mature female and a young sub adult female I use to have Hesperus and Bishop they passed away old age great pets

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      Tanya Sperl 7 months ago

      Interesting and informative! We were cleaning up our yard this weekend and came across a widow with her egg sac. We'd planned on just moving her, but then saw online that they can be kept as pets. I think she's happy...got our eye on the egg sac right now, cuz I'm not sure if we want to keep the spiderlings or not. As much as I like spiders, a hundred of them seems a bit daunting.

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      Sam 14 months ago

      So cool! Learned a lot. Ty

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