Friday, August 12, 2011

The sad tale of the Black Widow and her babies

Having waxed lyrical last week about all the beneficial insects my organic garden is attracting, it is with great irony that my post this week is all about finding a Black Widow spider in my shed. Not just in some deep dark furthest recess of the shed either but on a web spun right across the doorway.

I try not to kill spiders - they are extremely beneficial in the garden (and even around the home) killing pesky flies and gnats. Technically, the Black Widow doesn't harm the garden either - perhaps just the gardener! I've always tried to catch the spider and release it outside if I find one in my house. (Actually, I wail that a spider needs recused and my husband does the rest!) Since moving to California and subsequently finding out that there are poisonous spiders here, I've taken a greater interest in identifying spiders. In Australia, I had a policy of "kill now, ask questions later", but over there so many things bite and with poisonous bites too, I was a bit freaked out. I even got bitten by a pet bunny rabbit! Not poisonous but painful and totally unmerited - as I stood minding my own business, the deranged bunny just hopped over and sunk its two front teeth into my ankle. Ha! No wonder they brought in myxomatosis!

So this week, as I opened the door to the shed, a large black spider scampered along a silken thread. It was just about knee high, and I caught the movement out of the corner (or bottom) of my eye. When I looked down into the murky depths of the corner of the door, I could see a white egg sac and the spider crouching near it. I quickly ran back into the house and got a torch and the camera, stopping to put on the long lens - I didn't want to get too close to that Mama!

When I got back she was still there. I took this shot but its not great - the adrenalin was pumping because I was fairly sure she was a Black Widow just from the shiny blackness, She looks like polished ebony. No other spider is quite as dark or as shiny. And I was scared!
The egg sac was about 1.5 cm long and about 1 cm across. The spider's abdomen was also about 1cm across.

Still not wanting to kill an innocent spider, I had to check for the red hour-glass pattern on the underside of her abdomen. How do you ask a spider to turn over so you can check out its tummy? I got a stick, a very long stick, a very very long stick, (I was afraid she'd run up it!) and turned her over. I thought my heart would stop when I saw the red marking. It was a bonafide Black Widow Spider with a sac full of her babies.

I tried to kill her, but the extra long stick was not easy to manipulate and she  escaped out under the door. I called the neighbors house. Dalton came over straight away. With teenage curiosity and lots of courage he cut open the egg sac - the nude translucent babies were busting out all over.

We killed them all. Sounds terrible, but I just didn't want a whole colony of them setting up house in my shed. Over the weekend I intend to clear the shed of all cobwebs and try to implement more regular house keeping. Dalton was very calm and said that he's seen a few and never gotten bitten.

Some facts about Black Widow Spiders:

Black Widow spiders will run away from you if they can. They are not aggressive but may try to protect their eggs.

Their venom is a neurotoxin and can kill but generally only if it bites children or the elderly. More information about bites can be found here.

Only the female can inject enough venom to actually do any harm, the males and the babies have such small amounts as to be considered not harmful to humans.


The Blue Mud Dauber wasp preys on Black Widow Spiders. Hope I find some of those in my yard.

The web is really sticky and feels extremely strong.

Good house keeping - keeping storage areas web free, vacuuming in the corners of rooms etc. and sealing up cracks in foundations can help prevent spiders from moving in. See the UC Davis IPM notes for more details.

Aternatively, you could follow the advice my sister gave me when I called her in Ireland to tell her of my find - "Go inside, lock the door and tuck your trousers into your socks!"

Since she'd been complaining bitterly earlier that day about the rain they'd been having, I hadn't the heart to tell her I haven't worn socks in months, and that anyways I have none long enough to reach my shorts! But then again - raindrops don't bite...

Byddi Lee

8 comments:

  1. I just posted today about spiders as well...kinda. I have the same thoughts about them as you do until one cost me $250 at the vet. Now all spiders unless they are in the garden proper die.

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  2. Euwww! Oh I would have died... gross, gross, gross. I would have killed them too, I also leave spiders to do their thing, but not ones that can kill you!

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  3. Ha ha, I have a couple of those very, very, very long sticks and a couple of big old drinking glasses, so I can cover them and see that I've caught them. I seriously hate spiders, but I do try not to kill them. The other day I was totally freaked when I found a huge dead spider in my shaggy carpet. Even though it was dead rubber gloves had to be worn to move it, it might be playing dead. One of it's legs measured about an inch. The thought that I may have stepped on it barefooted actually made me heave a couple of times. shiver, shiver!!! Thank goodness you found them before they'd spread their wings, so to speak xx

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  4. Wow I am glad that I didn't find that....I would have freaked.

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  5. Whoa, how incredibly scary! I had no idea how poisonous they were! Thank goodness you disposed of the egg sac.

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  6. Interesting. Well, considering how much good spiders do, I don't think I'll start with the good housekeeping just yet - though I agree with you regarding the black widow. It's a good idea to kill that one.

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  7. We have a LOT of black widows here. Frequently sighted under the roof eaves, and once found one under the edge of a cabinet, lurking above our cat's food dish. I took that one outside. I don't like to see them running across the floor, but I don't like to see the forest scorpions running across the floor either, and we see even more of those! I did rescue one of our Mason Bees from a widow web this spring (the widow was home so I knew who spun it). The savvy spider realized the Mason Bees were flying back and forth to build their nest, so she put the web across the front of the nest entrance. The nerve! She missed a meal, but I let her live. I always used to squish spiders, but now I just leave them be. All part of the balance here, but if they do find their way indoors, they are promptly relocated!

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  8. That does it. I am insisting on my husband cleaning out his office. Scary!
    Too bad they had to die but they are poisonous.

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