Sunday, June 24, 2007

Black Widow Spider

Northern Black Widow - Latrodectus variolus

The other day on our afternoon walk with the dogs, I ventured off into the weeds at the side of the road while trying to chase down an insect. When I returned, Jo noticed this black widow crawling up my sock. Around the house I usually wear cutoff jeans, sneakers and over-the-calf socks. It's quite a fashion statement, but the high socks help protect my lower legs from bugs and brambles since I'm prone to wandering off into the weeds with our camera.

Jo used a rock to brush the spider off my leg before she crawled up my leg and into the cutoffs. (There's never a stick around when you need it, but we've got plenty of handy rocks.) If the black widow had gotten trapped between me and my cutoffs, I'd probably have gotten bitten, an event not likely to be life threatening, but painful enough to avoid. Once we got the spider back onto the ground, I took some photos.

Unfortunately, I failed to flip the spider over and get a shot of her abdomen. That's where the "hourglass" design that signifies a black widow is located. In a Southern Black Widow, the two halves are connected; in a Northern species they are not. One of the people at BugGuide who specializes in spider said he thought this one was a Northern species.

Another feature that identifies this spider as a black widow is that the third pair of legs is short. They have combs at the end and the spider uses there for wrapping webbing around her prey.

Incidently, the old wives tales about a black widow eating her mate is only partially true. Yes, black widows do sometimes eat their mate, but getting eaten is an occupational hazard for male spiders of many different species.