Tuesday, June 8, 2010


It was such a beautiful evening, calm with slowly drifting fluffy white clouds in a robins' egg blue sky. I took a walk around the nearby lake, mostly looking for ferns. I spied an overturned, collapsed canvas camp chair that some one had forgotten. I turned it over with a mind to sit down and watch the sun set over the lake. Fortunately, one leg was broken so I slowed down enough to see what looked like a female Black Widow huddled in the middle of the canvas next to her web. I enjoyed the little shudder of danger she evoked.

Black widows (Latrodectus mactans) are pretty intimidating even at only 1/2 inch long. The contrast of the red on the swollen black abdomen shouts "beware!" The only other time I had seen one was in California and I believed they were not as prevalent in the more humid Eastern climate. They do prefer warm climates, but can be found as far North as Oregon in the western U.S and New York in the east.

L. mactans is the largest and most notorious of the spiders known as Cobweb Weavers. Species in this group are found worldwide except in the colder latitudes. All are poisonous. The Black Widow has a red hour glass on the bottom of her abdomen. Since this spider's hour glass is indistinct or broken up, and it's abdomen actually more dark brown, I believe it may instead be a Northern Widow (Latrodectus variolus). Both species live in this area. Black Widows are often found near houses, outhouses, dumps and trash heaps, usually under objects, as this lady was. Northern Widows prefer undisturbed woods, stumps and stone walls. There are also Brown Widows and Red Widows.

Most spiders do not readily bite, unless seriously provoked. According to The Golden Guide of Spiders and Their Kin, if you receive a bite from a Black Widow you will likely not even notice it -- at first. But as the venom circulates in your bloodstream, you will experience abdominal pain similar to appendicitis, as well as pain in the muscles and soles of the feet. Saliva flows then the mouth becomes dry. You sweat copiously while your eyelids swell. After several days of agony, you will recover, most likely.
There is no first aid for any spider bite, but physicians can dispense medication to lessen the suffering. Its best to seek medical care at the first symptom! An antivenom for widow bites exists but has it own dangers. Children, people over age 6o, or those with pre-existing health problems, especially heart disease, are especially at risk of complications from a widow bite. See http://uuhsc.utah.edu/poison/healthpros/utox/vol4_no3.pdf

This spider had certainly captured my attention. I was ensnared not by it's web but by the prospect of a comfortable seat, and then mesmerized by its deadly aura. I left the spider unmolested, the camp chair turned upright, it's broken status obvious to any other human roaming that wooded, rocky part of the lake shore. I expected the spider to find another place to hide now that it was exposed to the light and weather.
Next time I am tempted to go "dumpster diving," I'll be sure to watch where I put my fingers--and other parts of my anatomy.