Black widows!

I just read a NY Times article from yesterday about the much-feared black widow spider, contributed by an author from Charlottesville, VA.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/science/dancing-with-black-widows.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

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 respoBlack widow 01nse 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 Black widow 02hanging 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.Black widow 03 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:

Category(s): Entomology

6 Responses to Black widows!

  1. This is very timely, as I have been experiencing a bit of a spider invasion at my house in Blacksburg recently. One spider kept building a web over the side door entrance to my garage. I didn’t want to be mean, but I did not want to go around with spider webs all over my clothes. Fortunately after getting the web knocked down 3 or 4 days in a row, he got the message.

    In other spider news, I finally convinced my daughter that the spider was really not going to hurt her. She’s very afraid of all things insect and bug like for some reason. But yesterday, she actually caught and released a spider in her room. Victory for the spiders!

      sequencingscott says:

      Excellent! Sounds like your daughter is making progress. The free-standing garage at our former house was a haven for spider of all kinds. I will confess that I did take a broom to the webs on a regular basis, though I attempted relocation whenever possible…

  2. Black Widow

    Good thing I finished eating before reading this.

    One question though: Did you tell the people you sold the house to about this advantage (other people might call this a problem)?

    I love your live and let live approach. I am all for animal rescue. And I don’t kill unless I can’t capture them without getting to close. But in my bedroom – no way, you are dead little spider. Or black widows anywhere close by – nope. I would literally sell the house and move to Alaska.

    The fear of spiders is taught though. We learn it from our parents, teachers or other people close to us during our early years.

    For some reason I don’t mind that – some spiders are dangerous after all. But so are some dogs. But I still roll my eyes (and think mean thoughts) every time I see a little Chinese kid or adult middle eastern guy scream when me and my 15 pound dog walk by. They were taught by their parents that dogs are evil (and spiders yummie, maybe), same way I was taught that spiders are horrible.

    We as educators (especially those teaching elemtary school and below) have the obligation to make sure that we are not fully influenced by our parents only – we should teach those kids more life skills – based on real nature and real animals. And some schools do it already – bringing spiders to class and encouraging students not be afraid of such useful creatures.

      sequencingscott says:

      Haha…we did not advertise that particular advantage that our house possessed, fearing the intense prejudice against our spidery brethren that you so aptly describe. I completely agree that we should be teaching more life skills, and suggest that we need to cultivate both a respect and an appreciation for nature in children. I understand that it is important for children to learn that there are dangers in the wild, and that is part of respecting nature, but there are dangers in the kitchen or bathroom as well, and yet we do not teach our children to scream and flee at the sight of a stove or scrubbing bleach. It angers me a little when people go into a panic about things like mice and spiders, or freak out when a wasp or bee is near. Where is the wonder and fascination? Where is the curiosity? Nature has produced some amazing and wonderful things, if you just take a moment to appreciate them…

    Kathleen Daley says:

    I’m sure you miss your little pets. They were quite interesting. Have you seen any in Blacksburg? If you see one with the red hourglass it is always the female?