Spider Bites and Scorpion Stings

Spider Bites and Scorpion Stings

Andrew’s Note:  Today we present another lesson from our Military Pedagogy series.  This discussion, from FM 21-76, the U.S. Army Survival Manual [Approved For Public Release; Distribution is Unlimited] is on identifying and treating (in the absence of available licensed medical care) Spider Bites and Scorpion Stings.

Black Widow Spider

The black widow spider is identified by a red hourglass on its abdomen.  Only the female bites, and it has a neurotoxic venom.  The initial pain is not severe, but severe local pain rapidly develops.  The pain gradually spreads over the entire body and settles in the abdomen and legs.  Abdominal cramps and progressive nausea, vomiting, and a rash may occur.  Weakness, tremors, sweating, and salivation may occur.  Anaphylactic reactions can occur.  Symptoms begin to regress after several hours and are usually gone in a few days.  Threat for shock.  Be ready to perform CPR.  Clean and dress the bite area to reduce the risk of infection.  An antivenom is available.

Funnelweb Spider

The funnelweb spider is a large brown or gray spider found in Australia.  The symptoms and the treatment for its bite are as for the black widow spider.

Brown Recluse Spider

Brown Recluse Spider

Brown Recluse Spider, courtesy of Ohio State University via CDC

The brown house spider or brown recluse spider is a small, light brown spider identified by a dark brown violin on its back.  There is no pain, or so little pain, that usually a victim is not aware of the bite.  Within a few hours a painful red area with a mottled cyanotic center appears.  Necrosis does not occur in all bites, but usually in 3 to 4 days, a star-shaped, firm area of deep purple discoloration appears at the bite site.  The area turns dark and mummified in a week or two.  The margins separate and the scab falls off, leaving an open ulcer.  Secondary infection and regional swollen lymph glands usually become visible at this stage.  The outstanding characteristic of the brown recluse bite is an ulcer that does not heal but persists for weeks or months.  In addition to the ulcer, there is often a systemic reaction that is serious and may lead to death.  Reactions (fever, chills, joint pain, vomiting, and a generalized rash) occur chiefly in children or debilitated persons.

Tarantula Spider

Tarantulas are large, hairy spiders found mainly in the tropics.  Most do not inject venom, but some South American species do.  They have large fangs.  If bitten, pain and bleeding are certain, and infection is likely.  Treat a tarantula bite as for any open wound, and try to prevent infection.  If symptoms of poisoning appear, treat as for the bite of the black widow spider.


Scorpion, courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service via CDC


Scorpions are all poisonous to a greater or lesser degree. There are two different reactions, depending on the species:

  • Severe local reaction only, with pain and swelling around the area of the sting. Possible prickly sensation around the mouth and a thick-feeling tongue.
  • Severe systemic reaction, with little or no visible local reaction.  Local pain may be present. Systemic reaction includes respiratory difficulties, thick-feeling tongue, body spasms, drooling, gastric distention, double vision, blindness, involuntary rapid movement of the eyeballs, involuntary urination and defecation, and heart failure.  Death is rare, occurring mainly in children and adults with high blood pressure or illnesses.

Treat scorpion stings as you would a black widow bite.


Andrew’s Note:  Additional Spider & Scorpion Bite References:

CDC – Spiders: Key to Some Important U.S. Species Adobe PDF file [PDF – 505 KB]

CDC/National Agriculture Safety Database – Video for Outdoor Workers: Killer Bees Wasps Spiders

The National Capital Poison Center

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – Fact Sheet: Black Widow Spider Adobe PDF file [PDF – 30 KB]

OSHA – Fact Sheet: Brown Recluse Spider Adobe PDF file [PDF – 28 KB]

National Library of Medicine (NLM) – Black Widow Spiders

NLM Medical Encyclopedia – Brown Recluse Spider

University of California – Integrated Pest Management Program: Brown Recluse and Other Recluse SpidersExternal Web Site Icon

Ohio State University Extension – Fact Sheet: Black Widow Spider

Washington State University – How to Identify (or Misidentify) the Hobo Spider Adobe PDF file [PDF – 395 KB]

Texas A&M University – Texas Cooperative Extension: Spiders

CDC Scorpions: Pictorial Key to Some Common U.S. Species Adobe PDF file [PDF – 504 KB]

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