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Cases of black widow (Latrodectus indistinctus) and brown widow (L. geometricus) spider bites referred to the Tygerberg Pharmacology and' Toxicology Consultation Centre from the summer of 1987/88 to the summer of 1991/92 were entered into this series. Of a total of 45 patients, 30 had been bitten by black and 15 by brown widow spiders. It was evident that black widow spider bites caused a more severe form of envenomation than brown widow bites, characterised by generalised muscle pain and craInps, abdominal muscle rigidity, profuse sweating, raised blood pressure and tachycardia. The symptoms and signs of brown widow bites were mild and tended to be restricted to the bite site and surrounding tissues. Conditions which should be considered in the differential diagnosis include cytotoxic spider bite, scorpion sting, snakebite, acute abdominal conditions, myocardial infarction, alcohol withdrawal and organophospate poisoning. To prevent the development of complications, the administration of black widow spider antivenom is recommended in severe cases because untreated latrodectism could become protracted, without improvement, for several days.