Monday, April 23, 2007

The Black Widow





Well... here it is. I've never actually seen one in the flesh before. A Black Widow Spider. Yikes. My friend Alex Morgado caught this under his porch. I told him to bring it over before it died and we'd immortalize it. I've always heard that they are native to this area. It's really, really black... except for that red. P.S. As usual, you can click on the images to get a larger view.

35 comments:

Mushy said...

I've seen one or two, but never this beautiful.

thanks

Will said...

Thanks, Rick -- I'm not sleeping tonight.

I hate, hate, hate black widows! They've scared the bejeezus out of me since I was a little kid.

Galvanized said...

Sweet Charlotte! So that's what a black widow spider looks like.

Ominously pretty, actually.

kenju said...

I saw one once; in the back of our pump house. They scare the bejeebies out of me. I may not sleep tonight, Rick!

Rick Lee said...

I've always been attracted to the color combination of black and red. This thing is so gorgeous it's like a designer spider.

metapundit.net said...

Nice pictures and a beautiful specimen. I'm from California (where Black Widows are quite common) and I've probably killed 100's of them.

As a small boy (perhaps 10) my parents took all of us kids on a cross country trip that included the Smithsonian. My younger brother and I were impressed by the Air and Space section but when we were in the Natural History section we eagerly looked through display cases of various creepy crawlies. The case labeled "Black Widow" had the tiniest puny specimen curled wanly in a corner and we were apparently loud in our scorn and lavish in our descriptions of all the Black Widows "three times that size" we had personally killed...

My mom still chuckles when she tells that story...

Bissage said...

Rick,

I like the way you attached monofilament fishing line for the last photo.

Four pound test?

You can use that critter for a Christmas tree ornament.

Charles Addams would be proud!

Richard said...

I found this nice tidbit at Wikipedia:

"Nearly ninety percent of the black widow bites reported in the medical literature of the first 4 decades of [the twentieth] century were inflicted on the male genitalia by spiders lurking underneath the seats of outdoor toilets."

Nice photos.

Bob Coffield said...

Very cool Rick! Can't wait to show it to my son (6 year old) tonight. Lately he has been into spiders. Remind me to tell you the Coffield black widow story next time I see you. I need to get a refresher of the story from my dad before I tell it to you.

Super Babe said...

So scary! How did you get the one with the white background?

Roger said...

Black widows were very common in eastern washington--they are very attractive (IMO--glossy black. I never killed them--when they moved into the garage every fall, I would take them and put them under the house crawl space--they are great in keeping other bugs out.
The more aggressive spiders were hobo spiders.

John Cunningham said...

Ay caramba!! you live in the Charleston WV area, right? Thanks for these pictures, I now know that I will have to divert to Pennsylvania or Virginia when travelling in the area.

Charles said...

As a kid, I tried to fish a lizard out of the fork of a tree then held my breath for an eternity as the disturbed resident black widow marched across the back of my hand.

Later in college I captured a female with two egg cases and placed her in a terrarium. She devoured several generations of hundreds of spiderlings (turns out they store sperm from a single mating from which they crank out egg cases the rest of their lives). After about a year, she lost a step and four of her newest daughters survived to do her in.

They and their web are amazingly strong (used in WWII for bomb site crosshairs). Fortunada (as I named her) lifted an anole (probably 20x her weight) 8 inches up into her web and sucked it dry. One time she attached a web strand to the hind leg of a very large moth that instantly took flight. After several minutes, the moth's limb was left dangling from that tether.

rightwingprof said...

Our barn was full of black widows. They're not aggressive, and won't bite unless you bother them. None of us was ever bitten.

littlebeartoe said...

Great shots!

As rightwingprof said, they're really pretty peaceful bugs. I grew up in Phoenix, and black widows are everywhere there. I've (accidentally) had 'em on my hand more than once. They're beautiful, they spin weird and messy webs, and they eat whatever they can catch.

Still best to avoid them, but I think they're pretty cool. Your photographs show how beautiful they can be.

Robert Mayer said...

Sweet. I haven't seen a black widow in years. We'd get tarantulas in Tucson, though. Another fun thing was seeing a scorpion hanging from your ceiling.

Jon said...

These were all over wood piles in our garage in Augusta, Ga., when I was a kid. You always had to be careful picking up lumber.

Also, in Ashland, Va., at a pumpkin farm about 20 years ago my oldest son picked up a pumpkin and started telling us about the "shiny black spider" that was under it. Sure enough, it was a black widow. And they really are shiny, shiny enough to look like plastic.

D. B. Light said...

I'm suspicious of the timing. Is this a promotion for an upcoming film?

Has Rick sold out to Sony?

Inquiring minds want to know.

DonSurber said...

It is a Latrodectus mactans west virginius, judging by its blaze orange

sonicfrog said...

Don, you know-it-all!

sonicfrog said...

I'm a pool and spa repairman out in Fresno. I come across these guys... er, girls all the time when working on pool and spa pumps. They like the warm moist areas right behind those pumps. As RWP said, they are very docile and shy; they don't like to bite because that would be a waste of precious venom (I can't believe I just wrote that). Several years ago, while working on a spa, I caught a rather large one crawl up my leg, but I stopped her before she could get to the good parts.

Jen said...

I'm totally arachnophobic and when I saw this on your page as it loaded, a chill went down my spine. The only thing about it is that it is a gorgeous shot. I mean, it ALMOST represents it as a thing of beauty :)

It was great to meet you in person a few months ago at Taylor Books. Hope to see you around more often.

:) Jen

Jerry Pennington said...

Those are great. It's texture almost looks like it's made of plastic

k said...

What a very beautiful animal.

I live in Florida, where we have both Northern and Southern Black Widows, as well as brown widows and red widow. Brown recluse visit us as tourists quite often, and I probably took a bite from one a couple summers ago. I was pretty sick, but I made it through just fine.

I love all manner of critters, including all kinds of *bugs.* My father is an MD and amateur entomologist, and my mother a medical writer. So I was raised to understand and respect, rather than fear, wildlife.

As a tiny child of 1 1/2 we had a black widow living under our little Arcadia, California bungalow. We were taught to be very careful around her. No one was ever harmed by her, and we never harmed her either. I've loved black widows ever since.

Thanks for the gorgeous pix of this exceptional animal. She really is beautiful, isn't she? I'm so glad you were finally able to *meet* one in person.

dividingbyzero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dividingbyzero said...

Oops - please forgive the last post. I found a bunch of black widows while working in the yard this fall - luckily I had my camera with me...

Bob said...

I got bit once...

Julia said...

Amazing photos. I linked to this in my blog. They're worthing sharing.

Trish said...

Wow! These are fabulous!

Here's a black widow story for ya...my crazy brother-in-law put a black widow and another nasty spider, the brown recluse, in a jar together for a Battle Royale. The black widow won.

Rick Lee said...

Wow... I'm really amazed by the outpouring of widow stories! This is great. I've been out on location at a hospital all day and I had no idea that the traffic was so high today. Thanks to Instapundit and Althouse and others for the traffic. Thanks to Alex for bringing the spider over to be photographed.

Rick Lee said...

BTW... some technical info... In order to see the red hourglass on the tummy of the spider, we put the spider on a large piece of glass sitting on two chairs. I laid on the floor underneath it and shot while Alex wrangled the spider with a pencil. Notice that the silk you see in that last shot is actually 4 strands.

Marion said...

I live in Eastern Washington, and while I was feeding my baby at 2:00 am I saw one crawling down the curtain. After taking fairly calm evasive action, catching it with a coffee cup and a card and running it down the disposal (they never survive that!) I found out they are loners, so there were no nests in the house somewhere. Also, ANY shiny black spider, red hourglass or not, should be treated as a black widow. "Mine" had a red stripe on its back.

Charles said...

Marion,

Loners?

Don't be too sure. I lived at one house where I could've rounded up a dozen in an hour on a summer's day.

Also, coloration varies with age and individually. Hourglasses can be white to yellow to orange to, usually, red. "Teenagers" can have a stripe pattern on top instead of the hourglass below.

All the widow spiders worldwide are poisonous but are not aggressive biters. Indoor toilets put an end to the most common source of bites.

The one shown here has not eaten in a while. She'd be sleeker, wrinkle-free and even more "plastic-looking" with a good meal.

Katie said...

Yes, one time we found one that was brown with an orange hourglass. Out here in the west, juvenilles, and sometimes even adults, have this coloration.

When we found it we didn't know that, so we figured it was related, But no, it's a western black widow.

Here's some more great widow (and some redback) pictures:
http://www.whatsthatbug.com/widow.html

Marion said...

katie: wonderful site!
Charles: That is what the extension agent told me. He probably meant that there aren't armies of them.