Spider Identification – Dangerous Spider Vs Harmless Spider?

Many people have a fear of spiders, and some for good reason. While all spiders are beneficial and play an important role in our ecosystem, some species can be highly dangerous to people and pets, and this is where spider identification comes in handy.

Venomous spiders are certainly nothing to mess around with, and with several venomous species of spiders in the United States, it’s important for you to know what you are up against.

Unfortunately, different species of harmless spiders can mimic the characteristics of dangerous ones. So, how do you know if you’re dealing with a dangerous spider or a harmless one?

That’s what we’re here to help you find out using spider identification techniques. But before we begin, let’s go over some important information you should know about spiders.

What Are Spiders And Why Are They Beneficial?

Pic 1 a spider in sunset
Spiders are highly beneficial, natural decomposers.

Diverse and adaptable, there are over 45,000 species of spiders throughout the world, and upwards of 3,000 spiders in the United States.

Despite a common misconception, spiders are not insects. They are arachnids in the same classification as scorpions, ticks and mites. They breathe oxygen, and are characterized by their eight jointed legs and fangs. (This is an important first lesson in spider identification 101).

And speaking of spider identification and fangs, did you know that practically all spiders are venomous? Luckily, most spider venom is only toxic to small animals and insects.

Only four species of spiders are considered medically dangerous to humans in the United States. They include the Black Widow Spider, the Brown Widow spider, the Brown Recluse Spider, and the Hobo Spider.

While being bitten by a venomous spider can be painful and very uncomfortable, the good news is that becoming fatally ill from a spider bite in the United States is incredibly rare. In fact, there have actually been no recorded reports of anyone dying from a spider bite here in North America.

With that in mind, and while we understand the fear of spiders regardless, it’s important to remember that these animals are very beneficial.

Spiders are an incredible form of natural pest control, especially when they reside in homes, barns, or on farming land.

They eat common and damaging pests like roaches, flies, aphids, moths, earwigs, mosquitoes, and more. They also help reduce damage to crops and can assist in helping stop the spread of certain diseases spread by common insects.

So, consider this the next time you come across a spider in or around your home. But what are the most common spiders you’re likely to come across?

Let’s take a look at the most common types of spiders in the US and then go over spider identification techniques.

Spider Identification – Knowing Most Common Types Of Spiders In The US

Pic 2 a woman looking at a web
Most spiders you come across are likely not going to be venomous to you.

Before jumping to conclusions when using spider identification, remember that there are 3,000 species of spiders in the United States, and only four species are considered medically dangerous. With those odds, you are more likely to encounter harmless arachnids than venomous ones.

Of course, your odds can vary depending on your region, the types of pest control methods you use around your home or property, and the species of spiders most common in your area.

The most common types of spiders you will likely contend with in the United States when looking into spider identification include:

  1. The Black Widow
  2. The Brown Widow
  3. The Brown Recluse 
  4. The Hobo Spider
  5. The American House Spider
  6. The North American Jumping Spider
  7. The Long-Bodied Cellar Spider
  8. The Wolf Spider
  9. The Yellow Sac Spider
  10. The Orb Weaver Spider
  11. The Grass Spider

Of those above spiders, the four that are considered medically dangerous are:

  • The Black Widow
  • The Brown Widow
  • The Hobo Spider
  • And The Brown Recluse

We will talk about how to use spider identification to distinguish between those four venomous spiders and the rest of the spiders on this list further down.

But if you’re wondering what the other most common types of spiders in the US are, check out the video below.

Now, let’s talk about spider identification.

Spider Identification For Medically Dangerous Spiders

Pic 3 a doctor
Not all people will experience serious symptoms from a venomous spider, but if you do, you should contact a doctor.  

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to use spider identification from afar to properly identify a venomous spider vs a harmless one. That said, remember that no one has been recorded as dying in the United States from a venomous spider bite.

Still, being bitten by a venomous spider is certainly painful, with some venomous spiders having the ability to make you incredibly ill.

We should also note that not everyone sees the spider that bit them and thus won’t be able to use traditional spider identification methods to determine what it was. One of the ways to use spider identification to identify a dangerous spider is to consider the symptoms of a venomous spider bite.

The symptoms of a venomous spider bite begin within 30 minutes of the incident and may include:

  • Pain at the bite site
  • Small fang marks at the bite site
  • Burning at the bite site
  • Swelling at the bite site
  • Redness and warmth at the bite site
  • Muscle numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A cold sweat
  • Blistering at the bite site
  • An open sore at the bite site
  • Intense itching and pain at the bite site

Not everyone will suffer from severe symptoms due to a venomous spider bite. If you are experiencing the above symptoms and you believe you have been bitten by a venomous spider, it’s important to contact a medical professional as soon as possible.

Now let’s talk about spider identification, beginning with the most medically dangerous spiders in the United States.

The Black Widow

Pic 4 a black widow
Only female black widows are venomous.

Region: Throughout the Eastern United States

Habitat: Dark and warm spaces including beneath the bed, in closets, basements, cellars, attics, storage boxes, wood piles, shoes, garages and rafters.

Size: Around ½ an inch when mature

Color:  Shiny and black with a red, orange or yellow mark on the abdomen.

Distinguishing Characteristics: A bright red, orange, or yellow marking on the underside of the abdomen. This marking may appear as an hourglass shape, but can also appear as a circle, dot or mark.

Medically Dangerous: Yes

Bite Symptoms: Pain at the bite site, redness, swelling, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps, muscle weakness, tingling, and flu-like symptoms.

Overview of The Black Widow:

Only female black widows are venomous. Furthermore, only female black widows are black and shiny with the infamous red markings on their abdomen. This helps immensely with spider identification.

Remember, not all black widow spiders will harbor the bright red hourglass. Many have other red markings or shapes on their abdomen.

If you come across a shiny black spider with a red, yellow or orange marking on her lower belly, approach with caution, as this is a venomous black widow spider.

The Brown Widow

Pic 5 a brown widow
The Brown Widow likely hails from Africa, and is now common throughout the Southeastern United States. 

Region: Southeast United States (though it is spreading throughout the US)

Habitat: Man-made structures including secluded or dark corners, attics, cellars, barns, fences, cracks and crevices, storage containers or closets where it can build its web low to the ground.

Size: 1 to 1.5 inches in length once mature

Color:  Tan, brown and black with dorsal stripes

Distinguishing Characteristics: A red, orange or yellow marking on the underside of the abdomen

Medically Dangerous: Yes

Bite Symptoms: Pain, swelling, redness at the bite site, skin damage, and flu-like symptoms including measure, vomiting and a cold sweat.

Overview of The Brown Widow:

The Brown Widow originated from Africa and has only recently migrated throughout the United States. This spider prefers tropical environments and was once designated to Florida, where he was originally introduced. However, the Brown Widow has now been found in many regions throughout the United States, including Hawaii, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Colorado, California and more.

The Brown Recluse Spider

Pic 6 a brown recluse
The Brown Recluse is often called the Violin Spider due to the violin shape on its back.

Region: Native to the United States, with a region ranging from Nebraska to Ohio, as well as southern states including from Texas to Florida.

Habitat: Dark, dry, reclusive spaces both inside and out. They prefer shoes, closets, cardboard boxes, basements, clothing piles on the floor, garages, wood piles, sheds, and storage areas.

Size: 0.24 and 0.79 Inches once mature

Color:  White, brown, grey and tan

Distinguishing Characteristics: A violin shape on its cephalothorax.

Medically Dangerous: Yes

Bite Symptoms: Mild to intense pain at the bite site, itching, a redness or swelling at the bite site, and an open sore or ulcer (necrosis) that can develop up to a week after the initial bite.

Overview of The Brown Recluse:

The Brown Recluse is a spider native to the United States and, though considered one of the most medically dangerous when it comes to the four medically dangerous spiders on this list, it is the least likely to bite.

This is because the Brown Recluse is one of the smallest spiders on our spider identification list of venomous arachnids. He actually needs assistance biting you, and most commonly bites when the victim puts on a shoe, shirt, or pair of pants that the spider is hiding inside. The fabric or material of the clothing item then provides the spider with enough support to push his fangs into your skin.

The Hobo Spider

Pic 7 a Hobo Spider
The Hobo Spider gets its name after being commonly found near train tracks. 

Region: Pacific Northwestern United States

Habitat: Dark, damp spaces in holes, cracks and crevices, basements, window wells, crawl spaces, cellars, and outdoors below rocks, in gardens, grasslands, fields and more.

Size: ½ inch to 2 inches long (including leg span)

Color:  Light to dark brown

Distinguishing Characteristics: The Hobo Spider’s web is perhaps the easiest way to identify this arachnid. It builds a funnel-shaped web that is large and easy to spot. The spider also has two palps near the mouth that can appear fanglike, but are in the shape of boxing gloves.

Medically Dangerous: Potentially

Bite Symptoms: Pain at the bite site, itching, swelling, rash, headache, sweating, nausea and vomiting, breathing difficulty, and flu-like symptoms.

Overview of The Hobo Spider:

There is some controversy about whether or not the Hobo Spider should be considered medically dangerous to people and pets. Still, it is currently listed as one of the spiders to look out for on this list of spider identification for potentially medically dangerous arachnids.

While some claim this spider can have medically concerning symptoms, some recent studies have found that the venom released by the Hobo Spider’s bite may not be toxic to people. This is potentially good news, considering the Hobo Spider is one of the more difficult spiders to identify on our spider identification list.

And speaking of spiders that may be difficult to identify, let’s go over some of the more common, non-dangerous spiders you are most likely to encounter below.

Spider Identification – Identifying Common Harmless Spiders

pic 8 a spider in a web
Most spiders are venomous, but not all are venomous to people.

Using spider identification techniques to identify a venomous spider over a harmless one can be difficult, especially because so many spiders tend to look like one another. That said, keep in mind that you are more likely to come across a non-venomous spider than a venomous spider when going about your daily activities.

The most common non-venomous spiders you are likely to tangle with include those listed below.

The American House Spider

Pic 9 the american house spider
The American House Spider lives both inside and outside. 

Region: Across the United States

Habitat: Both inside and outside homes in corners, window wells, windowsills, basements, crawlspaces, attics, garages, sheds, closets, and ceiling corners.

Size: 1/4th to 1 inch when mature

Color:  Varying hues of brown and gray with yellow or white markings on the thorax and legs.

Distinguishing Characteristics: Dark rings on the legs, with males having orange markings on their legs and females having yellow markings.

Overview of The American House Spider:

The American House Spider is one of the most common spiders you may encounter that requires you to use your spider identification techniques. Though harmless to people and pets, the American House Spider can resemble a Brown Widow, as it has a similar body shape and coloring.

And while the American House Spider can bite, it prefers not to and only does so if handled roughly.

The North American Jumping Spider

Pic 10 a Jumping Spider
The North American Jumping Spider is distinguishable by its two very large eyes.

Region: Across the United States

Habitat: Outdoors in gardens, grasslands, or on fences and exterior walls

Size: 1/8th to 3/4ths of an inch when mature

Color:  Black with stripes or spots on the abdomen and legs. Juvenile Jumping Spiders may have orange stripes or spots, and some species in Florida have red, yellow and orange stripes or spots.

Distinguishing Characteristics: They have very large eyes that are easy to distinguish and in fact the easiest to distinguish amongst most spider species.They also have a “furry” appearance and, of course, they jump.

Overview of The North American Jumping Spider:

Small and agile, the Jumping Spider is a common garden spider renowned for its incredible leaping skills. This spider is a harmless spider to people and pets, and highly beneficial for gardens and outdoor landscaping. If you come across the North American Jumping Spider, just leave it be.

The Long-Bodied Cellar Spider

Pic 11 a cellar spider
The Long Bodied Cellar spider is also sometimes referred to as a skull spider or daddy long leg. 

Region: Throughout the United States

Habitat: Damp, dark spaces like cellars, basements, window wells, and in gardens and grasslands.

Size: Body length – 1/4th to 1/16th of an inch, Leg length – 1 3/4ths to 1 15/16ths of an inch

Color:  Yellow, tan, light brown, and grey.

Distinguishing Characteristics: Long legs and a long body (which distinguishes him from the Harvestmen, who is also called the Daddy Longleg Spider, though the Harvestmen is actually not a spider at all.)

Overview of The Long Bodied Cellar Spider:

Sometimes referred to as a Daddy Longleg, The Long Bodied Cellar Spider is one of the most famous spiders in the United States. Harmless to people and pets, the Long Bodied Cellar Spider is highly venomous to insects, making it an excellent addition to households and gardens as a natural form of pest control.

This spider is reclusive and keeps to itself, so if you come across the arachnid in your home, consider leaving him alone. He will do more good than harm for sure!

The Wolf Spider

Pic 12 a wolf spider
Wolf Spiders may be large, but they are harmless to people and pets. 

Region: Throughout the United States and even the world

Habitat: Grasslands, fields, forests, and anywhere else they can find and catch prey

Size: 1 ½ inches in length

Color:  black, grey, and brown with stripe patterns of different brownish hues.

Distinguishing Characteristics: Two eyes that are much larger than the other six eyes. This spider is also an active hunter. It does not build a web in order to catch prey but instead seeks prey out.

Overview of The Wolf Spider:

When using spider identification, remember that Wolf Spiders are a common spider throughout the United States. Though not medically dangerous to people or pets, these large spiders can bite, and their bite can be painful.

That said, the Wolf Spider generally prefers not to bite people and is relatively reclusive. It prefers to be left alone. If you find a Wolf Spider in your house, simply let it outside again. These arachnids like to live outdoors in grassy fields and forests, where they can actively hunt.

The Yellow Sac Spider

Pic 13 a yellow sac spider
Small and harmless, the Yellow Sac Spider lives both indoors and out. 

Region: Throughout the United States

Habitat: Gardens, grasslands, and indoors

Size: 1/4th to 3/8ths of an inch

Color:  Yellow, tan, or beige

Distinguishing Characteristics: This spider has darker colored fangs and the tips of their legs are also dark, which leads to this spider often being called the black footed yellow sac spider

Overview of The Yellow Sac Spider:

The Yellow Sac Spider is a true sac spider that builds a silk-like sac in which to live. This spider can live both inside and out, and is harmless to people and pets. It feeds on common garden pests and even other spiders, and is often found crawling around walls, in gardens, and along the ceiling.

The Orb Weaver Spider

Pic 14 an orb weaver
Orb Weavers can be very large. They are excellent natural pest control agents for gardens. 

Region: Throughout the United States

Habitat: Gardens, grasslands, and woodlands

Size: Between 1 – 5 inches including leg-span (with females being much larger than males)

Color:  Brown, grey, yellow, white, and orange with different colored patterns

Distinguishing Characteristics: Orb Weaver spiders tend to be beautiful and brightly colored. They have spiked legs and a large abdomen, and are commonly known for spinning an intricate web with a unique zig-zag pattern down the center.

Overview of The Orb Weaver:

Orb Weavers are common spiders throughout the United States and often known as Banana Spiders, garden spiders, and zigzag spiders. They are often one of the easiest spiders to identify using spider identification due to their large size and unique coloring.

Though large, they are usually docile and prefer to be left to their own devices. They build intricate webs in gardens or on trees, and feed on a plethora of pesky insects.

If they do bite, the Orb Weaver can cause pain. However, it is not toxic to people or pets and should generally be left to its pest-control ways.

The Grass Spider

Pic 15 grass spider
The common grass spider makes a funnel-like web that is not sticky. Luckily, he’s a very fast runner.

Region: The Pacific Northwest

Habitat: Funnel-like webs in grasslands, forests, and backyards

Size: 0.74 Inches

Color:  Brown or yellow

Distinguishing Characteristics: The Grass Spider has eight eyes placed in rows of three, as well as two dark stripes on the back.

Overview of The Grass Spider:

The Grass Spider is rarely found indoors as it prefers to build a funnel-like web in grasslands or felids. When using spider identification, remember that the Grass Spider can resemble the Hobo Spider. However, the Grass Spider is usually much smaller than the Hobo Spider.

The Grass Spider is a harmless spider to people and pets and is an excellent form of natural pest control in gardens, grasslands, farms and forests.

Venomous Spider Identification – What To Do If You Have Venomous Spiders In Your Home

Pic 16 a black widow and egg
One venomous spider in or near your home usually means more, so it may be wise to contact a professional pest control expert for help. 

If you’ve used the above spider identification to successfully identify a venomous spider in your home, we suggest contacting a professional pest control expert. Usually, where there is one venomous spider there are more.

This is especially true if you found the venomous spider in your basement, crawlspace, cellar, attic, or in other storage areas like sheds or closets.

Spiders procreate quite quickly, which can lead to a large spider infestation if you’re not careful.

Most pest control experts charge between $150 to $300 to remove the spiders from your home. Of course, this price can vary depending on your region, the severity of your spider infestation, and the species of spider you are dealing with.

Once you have managed to use spider identification and other means to get rid of the venomous spiders in your home, your next focus should be on preventing them from returning.

Tips On Keeping Your Home Spider-Free

Pic 17 spider webs on a window
Clean often and remove webs from inside your home, on windowsills, window wells, around your basement, etc. 

While spiders are highly beneficial in the United States and, indeed, throughout the world, they can be unnerving to those of us with real arachnophobia. Now that you know how to use spider identification to identify which kinds of spiders you are dealing with, you can move forward with more confidence in managing these critters.

Of course, along with using spider identification, we also suggest you take measures to keep spiders out of your home. Take a look:

Keep Up With Routine Pest Control in and Around Your Home

Spiders are generally attracted by food, and this means that other pests like roaches, flies, earwigs, moths and mosquitoes can attract these arachnids. To keep spiders out of your home, you must also keep their food source at bay.

We suggest using a quality pest control method year-round to ensure other pests that may attract spiders are kept outside. These methods could include the use of essential oils, diatomaceous earth, and other organic or natural remedies.

You could also use insecticides, professionals, and ultrasonic sound repellents to keep pests out. The good news is that most common pest control products not only keep out common insect pests, but also deter spiders as well.

Of course, you also have the option of using spider bombs and spider spray, which are especially useful if you’ve used spider identification to identify potentially dangerous spiders.

Declutter and Remove Unnecessary Debris or Storage

Most of the above spiders on our spider identification list are attracted to areas of clutter. This is because clutter allows them a safe space to build webs without being disturbed. Venomous spiders in particular like Brown Recluse spiders and Black Widows prefer to live in areas of clutter, and this does increase your chances of getting bitten if you remove this clutter.

If you have used spider identification to determine you do indeed have a venomous spider in or around your home, use caution when removing clutter or tidying up. Wear gardening gloves and long-sleeved clothes, and go about cleaning slowly.

Get Rid of Excess Water or Moisture In And Around Your Home

Excess moisture can attract pests like mosquitoes and roaches, which can in turn attract certain species of spiders. Many spiders on our spider identification list above are attracted to moisture as well, so keep spiders at bay by cleaning and drying any excess moisture around your home.

Store Food Properly

Just as moisture and clutter can attract pests like insects and thus spiders, so can improperly stored food. To keep the above spiders on our spider identification list away, make sure you store food properly in air-tight containers.

Keep Up With Routine Home Maintenance 

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to keep spiders out of your home 100% of the time. That said, you can help reduce your chances of dealing with the above spiders on the spider identification list (and any other species of spider, for that matter) from becoming problematic by keeping up with routine home maintenance.

This includes caulking and sealing cracks and crevices, removing clutter, removing webs you come across, ensuring windows and doors shut securely, and ensuring your screens are free of rips or tears.

And that’s it, folks. Now that you have a better idea of how to use spider identification to tell the difference between a venomous spider and a harmless one, we want to hear from you.

What is the most common species of spider you have come across in your home recently? Leave us your thoughts in the comment section below.

Stay safe and thanks for reading!

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