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How to Care for a Pet Black Widow Spider

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Becky works as a biological science technician in endangered species conservation and has a passion for biology and wildlife conservation.

Yes, you can keep a black widow spider as a pet, but you have to be careful and avoid unnecessary risks.

Yes, you can keep a black widow spider as a pet, but you have to be careful and avoid unnecessary risks.

Can You Really Keep a Black Widow as a Pet?

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.

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).

Five Species of Widow Spiders to Choose From

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.

a simple black widow enclosure

a simple black widow enclosure

Where to Keep a Pet Spider

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 make 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.

Try an Upside-Down Enclosure

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.

Enclosure Options

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.

Warning: Make Sure You Can See Your Spider at All Times

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.

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What Kind of Temperature and Lighting a Pet Spider Needs

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 that is kept dark all the time as they still require a somewhat natural day/night cycle.

The underside of a widow spider.

The underside of a widow spider.

What to Feed a Pet Widow Spider

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 Options

Food items you can offer include the following:

  • Cricket
  • Grasshopper
  • Moth
  • Mealworm
  • Fly
  • Cockroach

Pet Store Food vs. Wild-Caught Food

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.

Supervise Your Spider With New Foods

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 hoist it up into the web. It's an amazing thing to watch!

Do Spiders Need 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.

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.

How to Keep a Pet Widow Safely

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.
  • 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.

How to Clean a Widow's Cage

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.

What if My Pet Widow Has 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.

Yes, Spiders Are Animals

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!

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!

Further Information

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Comments

yanni on March 08, 2020:

hi guys! I was wodering if you can help me identify one spider. i live in Cyprus. (An island in the Mediterranean sea, under Turkey and above Egypt)

i never thought that we have black widow spiders in my island until recently, but i cant really identify this spider as a "black widow" and i was wondering if someone can help me.

the spider is around 1cm , black, round and shiny with no tiny hair, and has a red line in front starting from left to right.

if someone knows or seen one like this let know ..

Ryan Rogers from Hot springs on February 26, 2020:

Great article, I've been keeping Black Widows as pets since I was young, my latest one is pretty young and very beautiful, her name is Natasha, when I first got her i kept her in a cage like a hermit crab cage and she spun web all over the top of it, all i had to do was open the door and drop a cricket in and it would always land in her web, but I recently made her a plexiglass container that's bigger and nicer and I put sticks and rocks in it but she has only made a little bit of web and only eaten twice since I put her in it 3 weeks ago, the problem is, when I drop crickets in they hide in the bottom and I guess starve to death, im thinking about taking her out long enough to glue some screen from a screen door around the middle and top of the container so maybe she can make more web. If anyone has any suggestions please email me at rhrogers132@gmail.com thank u

Alyssa on November 02, 2019:

How often do cobweb spiders in general need to eat? I have a different sort of cobweb spider that's not venomous (I'm not that ballsy). She's a triangulate cobweb spider and I figured that since they're of the same family, they'd have the same diet plan. How often do black widows need to eat? (I'm using it to scale I suppose)

Catherine on August 30, 2019:

I have one in my garden and she has been there a while but I keep destroying her web harvesting my tomatoes. She should move somewhere else. This morning she was out, which is unusual. I messed with her with my shovel a bit not hurting her but interacting for a few minutes. She just kind of let me with no attempts to run or go back in her hole I walked away for about 3 mins, and when I came back she was gone. Not sure what that was all about. Maybe she thought I might be food? I am thinking of making her a pet

NM on January 07, 2019:

I live in northern NM,USA. I just discovered a black widow in my home office. I’m letting her stay for the next month or so until cold turns warmer. Was looking up food to give her. You had just the fyi I needed. I’ve lived in a NM canyon w/widows, mainhouse in the winter and the top of my tipi in the summer. They living up high and me down low and, in the wild where Im the invasive species. lol

Im not keen on killing so I try to co exist or I transplant. Spiders Im easy to share space with...but Im no fool...long story-the extent I/We went to to make sure the brown recluse wouldnt bite our butts when we used the openair outhouse on the side of the mountain...best view but serious abt the brown recluse, they would hide under the seat. lol

Well, there’s a widow story for you

katherine on November 08, 2018:

found one on the first floor of my apartment building. caught her so no one would kill her and I’m planning on taking her to the biology department as soon as I can because I can’t take care of her. super cool though! can’t wait until I have my own place so I can bring my snake and get a tarantula

KevinBuehler on September 14, 2018:

I am looking for any breeders and / or hobbyists interested in purchasing an adult female Black Widow with 2 or 3 egg sacs.

Time is of the essence, as I am unsure of when the spiderlings are due to hatch.

Text Kevin Buehler (818) 941-5543 or via email: buehler_kevin@yahoo.com.

Stephen on August 29, 2018:

Hey Becky, thanks for the info! I stumbled across your page because I have a Black Widow that is living in my bathroom. It's pretty skittish and I've only been able to see it twice with no chance of capture. I am thinking about keeping it as a pet once I get it. Have you heard of any sort of trap for capturing Black Widows alive?

Hill on August 26, 2018:

Thanks that was very informative not to mention awesome. Well written and easy to understand.

Danny Thomas on July 10, 2018:

I have a female black widow and she just laid an egg sac this morning. I have her in a glass enclosure but I’m worried that when they hatch they’ll be able to climb out. What can I put the egg sac in to not worry about this happening? I absolutely will not destroy it nor freeze them. I’d rather let them live

Gavin S. on April 11, 2018:

Will multiple mature females(2 or 3) tolerate each other in a 20" by 10" terrarium?

Benedict Carey on March 30, 2018:

What a great article! As someone who has been bitten by a spider of this family (and survived) and can confirm you really do not want to experience that!

Fascinating animals, i don't think I ever saw a captive one, but I would love to.

Juan on March 22, 2018:

I raise and breed black widow spiders beautiful spiders

Patricia Taylor on March 22, 2018:

thank you so much I love widows there amazing, majestic creatures! You'r article really helped me and my little friend out. Thank you so much :)

Frankie J on November 20, 2017:

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.