I talk to lots of Washington State home inspectors and many of them report that they regularly see Black Widow spiders.
Now while I would love to believe each and every one of them, I have yet to see one myself. I see LOTS of spiders in crawl spaces and routinely wind up miles of spider webs as I traverse crawl spaces. (An aside: why do I always seem to be the first person to EVER have been in the crawl space?)
Actually for years I thought I had seen a few. My thinking was that they were so distinctive that I figured that what I was seeing must be black widows---just like what everyone else was seeing. I was never able to successfully see the underside of the critter or actually turn it over to see the distinctive red markings on the spider’s belly.
While I am not irrationally afraid of spiders---I am not stupid either.
Ever since I found out that there is in fact a spider in Washington State that looks VERY much like a black widow I have been much more interested in checking them more closely---in other words becoming stupider with curiosity.
This other spider Steatoda Grossa, or Cupboard Spider, is indeed a handsome black spider that in shape and in habit (web weaving etc) looks very much like a Black Widow. In fact it is sometimes called a “false black widow.” Fortunately for humans its bite is less troublesome than a real Black Widow’s bite (even the black widow’s bites are rarely fatal to humans if treated properly).
So the next time you see a black widow spider in your crawl space---relax---keep a safe distance anyway---and most likely it is the infinitely friendlier Steatoda Grossa.
And not “gross” at all!
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board