Mature females are 1 to 1.5 inches long, males are smaller.
The brown widow is slightly smaller, and lighter in color than the black widow. The color can range from tan, to dark brown, to a dull black, with markings on the top of their bulbous abdomens. The “hourglass” marking on the under surface of the abdomen is yellow to orange (it is red in black widows), and the legs have dark bands giving them a striped appearance.
In her lifetime, the female can lay 10 to 20 egg sacs, each with about 250 eggs. The egg sacs are white to tan, and covered with pointed projections (the black widow egg sac has a smooth surface). They are attached to the “messy” web where the female lives, usually in secluded protected sites around structures. Brown widows are shy and will flee, or curl up into a ball and play dead, when disturbed. Cases of bites occur when a spider is pressed against the skin of a person (when putting on clothes or shoes) or when a hand is reached into dark areas where the spider is present. Bites are described as painful, with severe muscle pain, cramps, and flu-like symptoms. Death is extremely rare.
Brown widow spiders were introduced into Florida and have quickly spread to the Gulf Coast and Southeastern states. They are currently found throughout the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and seem to be more prevalent than the native black widow spiders.
It is thought that the venom of a brown widow is more toxic than the black widow, but they are less likely to bite and they do not defend their webs as vigorously as black widows.
They are typically found in protected, undisturbed sites around structures such as: old flower pots, wood piles, piles of bricks or other construction debris, underneath trash can handles, and cluttered storage sheds.
Sanitation is very important in reducing brown widow spiders around the home. Reduce clutter, and routinely use a vacuum cleaner inside the home and garage to remove spiders, egg sacs, and webbing. When finished, remove the vacuum bag and place in a sealed plastic bag for disposal. Potential hiding places such as firewood, unused pots, building materials, and other debris should be moved away from the structure or disposed of. Any cracks, holes, or spaces around windows and doors should be sealed.