Unwanted House Guests
My sister, a notorious arachnophobe, was flying down to Florida with her family for a visit. Already high on her list of concerns were the sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and the alligators in every body of fresh water. Add Southern Black Widows (Latrodectus mactans) to the list and I could count on a full-on freakout once she arrived.
The arachnid in question was discovered while sweeping the floor in my home. The quarter-sized, eight-legged arthropod was quite elegant, with long, thin legs and a glossy black cephalothorax with three red spots. A red hourglass shape on the underside is a definitive marking, but for obvious reasons I chose not to flip her over to check. They occasionally exhibit other markings as well including red spots and stripes on the upper side of the body.
It’s understandable why people freak out about dangerous wildlife. Consider that in the United States, Mountain Lions take out one human being per year. American Alligators? One every three years. Sharks? One human every five years in Florida alone! And then there is the deadly, venomous, Black Widow that hasn’t caused a human fatality in the United States since the American Association of Poison Control Centers began recording such things in 1983. When you think about it, more people die every year from trying to eat too many marshmallows at once.
I’m not suggesting wildlife interactions don’t require a bit of caution, because they do. But a respectful understanding of the organism should be required before someone gets a license to beat something to death with a shoe.
Black Widows are named as such because the females will occasionally eat the males after mating. At 1 ½ inches, the female is over twice the size of the harmless male. Females inject venom into prey they have ensnared in their web, which is usually spun outdoors.
My sister was not pleased to hear about the spider and although I put it outside and told her that I killed it, she spent the better part of her vacation considering the idea of 400 hatchlings emerging from the egg sac and wondering where their mother was.
It’s certainly not my intention to perpetuate irrational fear of spiders, but if you want to prevent unwanted house guests, just tell them you found a black widow under the bed.