Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday 5: Black widows, the actual best spiders

I said some time ago that I was going to write a response to The Dragonfly Woman's post, Why Jumping Spiders Will Always Be My Favorite Spiders. Sure, they're cute. And hilarious dancers. And ridiculously photogenic. She picked a good family. However, my loyalties lie elsewhere. I'm sure you already know what's coming.

Five reasons black widows are actually the best spiders

You have to seek them out

Black widows won't come after you. This might be good news if you're, well, normal, but if you're a spider lover -- or just that rare breed of bug-loving, camera-toting nut that really isn't so rare in this crowd -- it might be vexing. Black widows aren't out during the day. They build webs in corners. They vanish into little hidey holes when they sense the slightest movement, and then they won't come out for hours, sometimes. (I know. I've waited.)

Somehow, this hard-to-get routine makes them that much more appealing. Like those CDs that used to be so hard to open, or a dish that takes a while to cook. (I assume. I spend more time with the spiders than in the kitchen.) I've spent more hours than I should probably admit, poised by the corner of our patio or next to the broken pipe that houses a big female every year. I genuinely get excited when those first legs tiptoe out of the gloom. 

You have to look closely

Gimme a kiss!
Not everyone I run into knows or has looked carefully enough to note the shape of the red or orange abdomen marking on a black widow (it's an hourglass, sometimes two disconnected triangles). But there's much more; and unlike some big-eyed, fancy-dancing, well-coiffed spiders who shall remain nameless; black widows play it a bit closer to the chest (or cephalothorax). Have you ever really seen a black widow's eyes? They're smaller than a jumping spider's, but kind of endearingly buggy. Do you know the exact sheen on an adult female's abdomen, and the dimples that invariably form? Have you ever caught the pinprick glisten on a widow's fangs as she eats a moth? Either most people are missing out, or I really need a life. OK, it's probably a little of both.

They're sexy

Come on. Even if you don't think the two terms belong within a mile of each other, think "spider" and "sexy." What's the general shape in your mind? It's a black widow, isn't it?

Apparently, Google agrees. Over the course of the past few years, I've had reason to search for "black widow" and "black widow female" several times. Here's what usually happens:

Now, there's plenty to be annoyed about -- the feminist in me and the "No, I meant the spider!" in me both take issue with the results. But you've got to admit, this is a spider with presence. A spider people want to be. Just imagine people trying to emulate any other spider. Try to imagine a Marvel hero named "Salticidae" or "Orb weaver." (OK, so there are a few "Tarantulas" in Marvel and DC, but they're all super lame.) The jet-black color, the curves, the long, slender legs. And yes, the venom and (mostly apocryphal) mate eating. The black widow spider is iconic. If jumping spiders are great ambassadors because they're adorable puppy-dog "gateway" spiders, then black widows are the conversation starters. They're the quintessential spider spiders.

Their webs are awesome

I know, there are prettier webs, larger webs, and a few stronger webs. But black widow webs remain my favorites. The thread is shockingly strong. And although the web looks like a disorganized mess, it functions like a three-dimensional pulley system and sensory grid. It's a machine. And it's fascinating to watch the operators at work. Black widows are a little like penguins or seals in one way -- on the ground, they're awkward and clumsy, toddling and wobbling about, but in their environment (their web, rather than water), they're full of sinuous, remarkable, swift grace. They run through the web instinctively, throwing silk loops around prey moments after it becomes entangled.

No one expects it

For black widows to be my favorite, that is. (Also, the Spanish Inquisition.)

They're venomous! I have pets and a kid! They traumatized me! And they're venomous! I know a friend of a friend of a friend of etc. that could have died once from what was almost kind of certainly maybe a black widow bite!

First, they're not as dangerous as all that. Yes, they have potent venom; but they bite people so rarely, and only when directly threatened, and even then the person is usually fine; as to make actively fearing them make about as much sense as fearing cars. (Actually, you're in much more danger around a car, probably.) Just be careful. And let the venom and danger prompt you to learn more. Also, I love adorable jumping spiders and their ability to bring more people into the spider loving fold. But if we can love these spiders too -- the most venomous spiders around, the ones who get such a bad rap for mate eating, the ones with freaking danger signs on their abdomens -- then maybe we can love them all. And by extension, all critters. Look closely. Be amazed.


Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Ha ha! Love it. Though, I do feel I should point out that I said jumping spiders are MY favorites, not that they're the best. Black widows are wicked cool too. :)

Kimberly Hosey said... Best Blogger Tips

Haha; so you did. What? You mean there's a difference between objective fact and my personal opinion? Surely you jest.

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Of course, I did write a post called Why Dragonflies Are the Best Insects, close to 3 years ago now... But they are the best! There's no denying that. :)

Timeless said... Best Blogger Tips

When I moved up to Idyllwild Calfornia back in 1982 I had a Asparagus Fern Plant which I purchased from the Nursey and proceeded to put inside of a larger decorative Mexican Clay Pottery pot. I brought it up from my mum's place and the plant had previously lived outside on the porch area for several months.

Unknown to me or anyone else, it had been inhabited by a Black Widow Spider. I brought it to Idyllwild to live inside my place as a house plant. When I discovered the reside within the pot, I was rather delighted. I kept it as a pet of sorts for several months, feeding here crickets and moths I would collect at night from around my outside porch light.

Then one day she was no longer there. Was a bit creepy, but nothing ever came of her anywhere else in the house. Still I enjoyed having one as a pet if even for a few months.

Cheers , Kevin


heavystarch said... Best Blogger Tips

Black Widows most assuredly at the most badass of all spiders. They epitome of a spider. Whenever I see spiders depicted at Halloween or on the side of pest control trucks or anywhere else - it always seems to be the Black Widow's shape and form.

Funny thing is I used to work for a pest control company in California (Clark) and I kept Bdubs (Bdouble-u's) as pets in our office...until one day a coworker was too afraid and killed all my pretty little pets.

I was sad he even crushed the egg sacs.

BTW I love your photographs.

Olivia said... Best Blogger Tips

I was kinda wondering.....are Black Widows legal to keep as "pets" in Arizona? ......and if one could keep a black widow in the same container as Arizona Bark Scorpions? Reasons being.....i have two adult bark scorpions and three somewhat baby bark scorpions. I have seen widows around my yard.....and there are times where i am partially wanting to capture one. For the most part....if they are near my house....i tend to want to run for the nearest thing and try to remove it from the premises....mostly get that weird feeling that something is crawling on you.....when there is nothing there. However, now my curiosity has been sparked. Normally i wouldn't even dream of keeping something dangerous as scorpions or even think about catching a widow. Now i am curious, i want to study them. Even though both predators are active at night, they are interesting to watch...even if they are just being still. Any info if they are ok to keep in Arizona will be helpful.