I just read a NY Times article from yesterday about the much-feared black widow spider, contributed by an author from Charlottesville, VA.
His experience with these legendary spiders is actually similar to my own. Until recently, my wife and I owned a home in a quiet neighborhood on the west end of Richmond, VA. We were about as close to the city limits as you could get, and still be in the city. In fact, we were quite close to the University of Richmond, whose mascot is a spider (join the spider club, if you are so inclined). Appropriate, given the number of spiders in our area. Anyhow, we soon discovered that black widow spiders (those belonging to the genus Latrodectus, family Theridiidae), where common inhabitants of our garage, yard, and in just about every crevice and under any stone that you chose to investigate.
Naturally, we were ecstatic. No, for real!
Now you have to understand that my wife and I share a ‘live and let live’ approach to spiders, and though we encourage them to relocate out-of-doors, we strive to avoid killing them whenever possible (sorry guys, but I was cheering for the spider to escape during class last week). We also find them fascinating to watch, and so it should come as little surprise that our first response to finding one in our yard was to put it in a jar that we kept on our front porch. They are shy, as you will often hear them described, and not especially aggressive. Of course, if you are a tiny insect trapped in a jar with a hungry black widow, they are pretty terrifying to behold. I am pretty sure that if these things were able to grow to the size of cats or small dogs, mankind would not stand a chance. We actually watched as this little beauty, when confronted with prey that was hiding beneath a piece of bark, wove strands of webbing from the lid down to the piece of bark in order to lift it up so that she could get to the insect underneath. Yeah…cunning enough to work out the mechanics of that.
Anyhow, that was fine for a while, but then we found our second one. No problem…we have plenty of jars, and no shortage of flies getting into the house, and stink bugs in the garden. I mean, who would not want to have a couple of North America’s most feared spiders hanging out on the front porch? Truth be told, despite their fearsome reputation, very few people actually succumb to the bite of a black widow. Granted, the typical bite does cause intense pain and abdominal cramping, but most people recover within a week or so. The brown recluse is the spider to really fear, but we can talk about that guy some other time. Black widows are certainly not something that you want to get bitten by, and certainly not something that you want to have hanging out in places where your children play, or places where you might leave shoes or gloves sitting around. After this discovery, all footwear and work gloves remained inside the house!
So this was an entertaining and educational experience, until the day that we walked out on the front porch one fine morning to discover the little bundle of joy pictured here. Ahhh, the joys of parenthood! That little egg sac will contain anywhere from about 100 to 400 eggs that typically hatch after 20 to 30 days. Granted, not all would survive to adulthood, but that seemed to be a few more spiders than we were interested in rearing…not to mention the fact that we were finding more adult spiders every week. As it turns out, they are very good at remaining unnoticed, but once you know where to look, they become almost ridiculously easy to find. This is all well and good, but when you strive to avoid killing them, you have to decide how willing you are to have such notorious neighbors.
So we opted to catch and release. We found a lovely wooded lot up the road from us, and turned these little ladies loose. I also stopped looking quite so hard for them. Then we sold our house and moved away from that spider-infested city for good. OK, we were doing that last part anyways, but it just sounded good. Anyhow, the take-home message is that these spiders are pretty fascinating. If you are the type to be terrified of spiders, then I pity you. Spiders are ubiquitous in nature, and odds are pretty good that if you just examined your environment a little more closely, you probably have one near you right now. Resist the urge to panic! Spiders are certainly not interested in you, unless you are a tiny, appetizing insect, and with only a few notable exceptions, they are unable to harm you. They do a considerable amount of good, given that they want to eat so many of the insects that do harm or annoy you, and though you may not find them as fascinating as some of us do, you still reap the benefits of their continued existence. So maybe next time, instead of picking up the shoe or rolling up the magazine, you might consider just relocating them outside?
I leave you with this: