Some of the stories that make headlines can serve as cautionary guides. Tales of being aware and following one’s instincts are impressionable enough to give us all pause.

This past June, 5-year-old Kailyn Donovan was doing what most kids are doing this time of year – enjoying the warm outdoors. She didn’t pay attention to the bruisy-looking mark on the back of her knee and her parents chalked it up to a run-of-the-mill bug bite. At first.

After a few days, the mark grew bigger and started changing colors, becoming darker. Kailyn also came down with a fever and was sent home from school. The family’s pediatrician advised her mom Kristine and dad Josh to take the little girl to a local E.R. near their Massachusetts home.

She was diagnosed with a spider bite though doctors couldn’t pinpoint the type, and was sent home with antibiotics. Kailyn’s condition didn’t improve, so her parents took her to UMass Memorial Medical Center. There she was seen by a pediatric infectious disease specialist who concluded she’d been bitten by a black widow spider.

The doctor explained that the black coloring was a result of the spider’s venom causing necrosis. When tissue cells die off, they become discolored. The black widow is the most venomous spider species in North America, but did you know there are three types? Western, southern, and northern.
Female southern black widows are known for the red hourglass marks on their underbellies. Southern black widows’ habitat is in the southeastern region of the U.S. Northern black widows have a “break” in their hourglass but also have several red dots on their backs.
Northern widows can be found throughout North America, including parts of Canada, the U.S.’s eastern coast, down into Florida and out in the Midwest such as Kansas. They favor dark places like sheds, garages, piles of brush, or basements. Bites usually occur when a widow is disturbed, as the creatures are described as being very timid.

Image of black widow spiders.Judy Gallagher via Flickr

Though their venom is 15% more powerful than a rattlesnake’s, fatalities are rare. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, symptoms of a black widow bite include:
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain, swelling, burning sensation at bite site
  • Stiffness or pain in the muscles, chest, or abdomen
  • Weakness or paralysis, commonly localized in the legs

If you are bitten by one, they advise to wash the wound and apply a cold pack until immediate medical attention is received.
The persistence of Kailyn’s parents paid off as her outcome could have been much worse. Fortunately, her infection was caught in enough time for her to make a full recovery. Click on the video to learn more about Kailyn’s ordeal and to find out about black widows.
Kristine wanted to share their experience with the hope that it can remind other parents to trust their instincts if something seems off. It’s actually a great reminder for us all to trust that gut feeling and watch out for insects!

Have you or someone you know ever been bitten by a venomous spider? Did you realize it immediately or was it misdiagnosed?


Michigan State University

Live Science