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August 5, 2012 / Rae Spencer

Black Widow Spider (Arachnophobia Alert!)

A few nights after our cicada adventure, the dog and I found a black widow during our late night stroll. In fact, we found three black widows. Once I knew what to look for, how to spot their messy web-nests, I was astonished at how many there were in the yard. Astonished and horrified.

(I apologize for the poor quality of this photo. It was taken from my camera’s greatest possible zoom distance, with shaking hands and racing heart and a powerful urge to run away.)

I don’t remember being afraid of spiders, when I was a child, but I have certainly become afraid of them in my adulthood. Whenever I find a spider, my reactions range from sweaty anxiety to paralyzed terror. The closer the arachnid, the more severe my physiological response. It’s not so much a fear of being bitten as it is a shivering revulsion of all those legs and eyes. 

I don’t like this part of me, this unwanted instinct to race for a broom or break out a can of insecticide. So I’m working to overcome my fear. In the process, I’ve made peace with the orb weavers and jumping spiders in my yard. I’ve even perfected a glass-and-postcard system of wolf spider relocation, for when I find them in the house.

Even so, I cannot embrace the idea of a population of venomous spiders lurking under the fence and flower-bed borders. In this case, brooms and insecticide seem reasonable. Unless there are better ways to eradicate black widows. Any ideas?

10 Comments

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  1. meanjoegreene88 / Aug 5 2012 8:06 PM

    Do you mind if I ask, where do you live? I’m glad we don’t have poisonous spiders here in Ireland but I’m in the United States about six times a year, I would worry about running into these fellas!

    • Rae Spencer / Aug 6 2012 4:19 PM

      We live on the Atlantic coast, in Virginia. This is my first up-close encounter with black widows, but that may be because I simply haven’t recognized them before. After a short google search, I found this page, which gives me the impression that black widows can be found almost everywhere in the United States…

  2. Angela / Aug 6 2012 2:45 PM

    Hi Rae,
    As an avid gardener, I encounter my share of arachnids of all sorts. Learning about the benefits and habits of different spiders has helped a lot in overcoming my fears and learning to appreciate them — typically this comes from all of my home schooling science sessions with my son. Perhaps finding out a bit more about spiders will help with your fears? I recommend good children’s books from the library. :)

    I am very comfortable letting them all alone — with the exception of the widows. They’re simply too dangerous and this danger, to me, outweighs any potential benefits they may have. Their tendency to lurk in high use places (under the corner edges of things, where my fingers would naturally go, for instance) makes their removal even more necessary in my opinion. I do use insecticide on the widows and they are the only target. Otherwise my garden is completely free of toxins.

    If it makes you feel any better, we not only have black widows, but brown ones too. I’d never heard of the browns until a couple of years ago, my son and I started finding too many of them in the garden and I freaked. A docent at the wetlands interpretive center told us all about them — they came from Florida, apparently, and are more venomous than the blacks — they are also more populous in my garden. They’re everywhere! Needless to say, I spray regularly for these to keep them down to manageable levels, otherwise they could easily overrun the yard.

    Sorry to write so much — just wanted to let you know you’re not alone. Hope some of this helps. :) You take care.

    • Rae Spencer / Aug 6 2012 4:49 PM

      I have found that learning to identify them helps refocus my attention from the visceral run away reaction to a more rational what’s its name? mindset. Then I am able to appreciate the good they do in my yard. Also, I try to remember the location of larger webs, so I am less likely to be surprised as I work in the flower beds. All of this helps.

      I don’t expect to ever find a cure for my arachnophobia, but I would like to achieve some control over it. The black widows have undone some of my progress, but I don’t believe the relapse is permanent. The most lasting change that will come of my weekend discovery is a new appreciation of gloves. In the past, I’ve been guilty of working without gloves. It won’t happen again!

      Thank you for taking time to share some of your insight. It definitely helps!

  3. bardessdmdenton / Aug 11 2012 4:04 PM

    I actually love spiders now, Rae … and didn’t when I was a child. But how I would feel about a yardful of black widows is another matter. I read Angela’s comment and realize that even as someone who is anti-chemical-and-harming any living creature, sometimes the imminent danger overtakes the ideal. Kudos to you for taking the photograph, and hope you find a way to rid or at least reduce their presence in your yard.

  4. Chimene / Aug 20 2012 1:16 PM

    I live in Virginia near Lake Anna and found FOUR black widows yesterday underneath bags of mulch. Is there any correlation with the warm winter last year and a higher amount of spiders I wonder?

    • Rae Spencer / Aug 20 2012 11:32 PM

      It certainly seems as if there are more spiders than usual. Other insects, too. I wonder what will happen, next summer, if we have another warm winter?

  5. Gillian / Oct 15 2012 4:05 PM

    Hi Rae,

    I, too, have a revulsion of spiders. Not so much the jumping spiders or wolf spiders that roam free in the garden, but the ones who live in webs. Since discovering the beauty of orbweaver spiders, I have been able to overcome my revulsion long enough to take some macro photos of them… however, brushing up against (or walking through) their webs accidently just horrifies me. I’ve had a couple of bad allergic reactions (hives) to bug bites over the past couple of years, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were due to spider bites while roaming through tall grass. And these are non-venomous insects I’m reacting to!

    While there are Black Widows in southern Ontario, I haven’t heard of them here in Ottawa. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to fear encountering them on a daily basis, but I am a big proponent of the “live and let live” motto. I hate the thought of killing anything out of the fear that it might cause injury or be dangerous (I have heard people kill snakes in the south just for this reason, and it sickens me as much the police who shot and killed a moose here in Ottawa because it didn’t respond to tranquilizers.) Every animal and insect has its own place in the ecosystem. Perhaps some time researching the Black Widow’s role would help?

    • Rae Spencer / Oct 15 2012 5:18 PM

      I might feel less inclined to fight the spiders if we lived in an isolated area, but we don’t. Our fence runs along a sidewalk that is heavily travelled, especially during the school year, and our neighbors all have children. While I don’t fear snakes the way I do spiders, I would take the same approach to poisonous snakes in my yard, for the same reason. It’s not fear, exactly. It’s more a sense of responsibility.

      I wonder how other homeowners feel about this issue? Please comment, if you’ve faced a similar situation. Or if you have an idea for how we should deal with our spiders…

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