Nature: Deadly Beauty

Black widow spider

There aren’t many venomous animals or insects in my part of the world, southern coastal New Jersey. Rattlesnakes are technically possible, but so rare that I don’t know anyone who’s ever seen one, and I know a lot of people who spend much of their time outdoors in the woods. For insects there is only one here, and it is also fairly rare: the black widow spider.

Last summer we had a spider at the corner of our porch that was quite dark, but it was a lurker, hiding under the edge of the siding, and by the time I got a good enough look at it to identify it as a black widow female (glossy solid black except for small crimson marks on the abdomen, famously one in an hourglass shape on the underside), she had already given birth to hundreds of babies that were spreading out along the edge of the porch.

I’m not fond of spiders, and can occasionally get creeped out by large ones in the house, especially when they’re on me, but outside I follow the policy of live and let live. A brood of venomous spiders on our porch, inches from us walking by, and our summer visitors as well, was something I couldn’t leave alone, and, though I hated to, I sprayed the area with insecticide and killed them all.

This morning, when using the garden hose at the other corner of the porch, I noticed another glossy black spider. Looking closely, I soon saw the crimson marks on the abdomen that confirmed it was also a black widow. You can see them on the photo above. The male black widow is smaller, less glossy, and brownish, so this had to be another female, and from the size, quite mature and probably pregnant. You can see she’s captured a large beetle, which would probably provide food for her brood, to be laid in a round egg-case nearby.

This time I decided to try the humane approach. I found a large plastic container with a lid, and gingerly placed it under the spider and the beetle, then raised it so they went inside. If the spider had acted aggressively, I was prepared to abort, and jump away, but she was quite passive, clinging to the beetle, and I was able to close her inside safely, take her well out into the woods, and leave her and the beetle on an old woodpile where she is welcome to prosper.

Now, it’s back to work. Who says you can’t have a little excitement working at home?

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