Africa is home to hundreds of spider species. These are divided into two groups: (i) neurotoxic spiders and (ii) cytotoxic spiders. Button spiders belong to the neurotoxic group, which consists of species whose bite is usually accompanied by severe pain. Their venom affects the person's central nervous system.
Button Spider Facts
Thirty two species of widow spiders belonging to the Latrodectus genus of the Theridiidae family have been identified. Of these, only those species that are found in Africa are known as button spiders.
These include the east coast button spider, west coast button spider, karoo button spider, inland button spider, house button spider, and the Zimbabwe button spider. While the first four species are native to southern Africa, the Zimbabwe button spider is native to Africa and the house button spider is found in many parts of the world.
All six Latrodectus species found in Africa are potentially harmful to man. Instead of the red hourglass figure on the underside of its abdomen, many button spiders have red patterns on a glossy black or dark background, which naturally serves as a warning.
Normally, a healthy adult body is capable of diluting the venom to less than a fatal concentration, but envenomation by this species can be fatal to children and ill or weak adults. Button spider is considered one of the most venomous spiders in the world.
Spiders of the genus Steatoda (belonging to the Theridiidae family) are often misidentified as widow spiders, and thus, are now called false widow spiders or false button spiders. They are significantly less harmful to humans.
Like the other members of the Theridiidae family, even button spider constructs a cobweb, which consists of an irregular tangle of sticky, silken, gleaming fibers.
These spiders can be seen hanging upside down near the center of their web, waiting for insects to get stuck. It's thrilling to watch them rush over to the insect that's got stuck, bite it, and swathe it in a silken shroud before it can untangle itself.
Button spiders jab their prey with their fangs to inject venom. As the prey stops moving, they crush it with the help of their cheliceral teeth, instill it with digestive enzymes, and carry it to their hiding place where they will eventually feed on it.
They suck up their prey and surprisingly, the whole process of digestion happens outside their body. If threatened, these spiders rush towards the ground on a safety line of silk.
Like other web-weavers, button spiders have very poor eyesight. However, they have the power to sense the vibrations reaching them through their webs, which they use to orient themselves to the prey. Vibrations perfectly guide them and even warn them of larger animals that could injure or kill them.
Actually, button spiders are not aggressive by nature. However, if you purposely insert your finger into the web, they might consider it a prey and bite it. Most injuries to humans are nothing but defensive bites, delivered by spiders when they get accidentally squeezed or pinched.
A female protecting an egg sac, if disturbed, can bite you. It is also observed that invasion by any large creature will cause these spiders to flee.
If weight is taken into account, their silk is much stronger than any kind of steel, though the density of spider silk (1.3 g/cm3) is less than that of steel (7.8 g/cm3)!
Button Spider Bite: Symptoms and Treatment
The bite of these spiders feels like a pinprick. Nausea, muscle ache, and paralysis of the diaphragm resulting in shortness of breath are some of the main symptoms of button spider bite. Like we said earlier, though rare, bites can be fatal, especially to small children or elderly people.
Maintaining a clean, web-free environment in and around your house is necessary to prevent these spiders from making your house their home. If you experience pain in your entire body after being bitten by them, you should immediately seek proper treatment from a health-care provider. The treatment usually involves the use of narcotics and antivenins.
Button spiders are really fascinating creatures, but their bites are deadly and can easily become infected. So, you need to take utmost care while handling this species. The anti-venom is produced by the South African Vaccine Producers Institute in Edenvale, or can also be obtained from the South African Institute for Medical Research in Johannesburg.