Venom in the Yard (Arachnophobia Alert!)

Black Widow Aug 14

Last summer brought dozens of black widow spiders to the yard. (For more about our encounters last summer, see here, here, and here.) I suppose the spiders had been in the yard all along, without our noticing them, but I felt a sense of responsibility once I knew they were there. We killed the ones we found (and destroyed their eggs) and began eliminating the spiders’ hiding places.

Black Widow Aug 14

We’ve found far fewer black widow spiders this year. Did our efforts last summer make a difference? Did the longer, colder winter help?

Black Widow Aug 14

Perhaps the population isn’t smaller at all this summer, only better hidden. Much better hidden, if that is the case, because I am diligent about looking for their webs as I work in the yard.

Black Widow Aug 14

I always feel a twinge of regret when I kill the spiders, because I don’t like killing anything. But I would feel even worse if I left them to multiply and spread into our neighbors’ yards. What do you think? Would you kill them, if they were in your yard? Is there a better solution?

Days Like Yesterday

Yesterday was sunny and mild, a perfect mid-October day. A perfect day to work in the yard. To weed the chronically late paperwhites, encourage tiring daisies, and add a few fall flowers.

My husband had purchased chrysanthemums and pansies on Saturday, so everything was ready and waiting. I started my list with the mower, trimming ragged tufts of grass, sowthistle, and knotweed.

All went well until I decided to clean out the cactus bed, where I wanted to plant the pansies. I soon had a glove full of ants. On my way into the house, to rinse my itchy hand, I spotted an amazingly furry moth on the deck. It was a turning point for my day.

(I would love some help identifying this moth. Is it one of the tiger moths?)

While photographing the moth, I noticed a foul odor coming from underneath the deck. A decomposition kind of reek. After tracing the scent to its strongest point, I traded my camera for a flashlight and began surveying the narrow seams between boards.

By aiming a flashlight just so and keeping one eye aligned just so, the space under the deck can be inspected in six-inch increments. It’s a tedious, back-cramping process, one that I perfected during Indigo’s younger years, when her toys often rolled out of sight. Or got buried.

I located the odor’s source, something furry and lifeless, but it was wedged too far under the deck to reach without removing boards. Two hours later, two boards later, I called animal control for a dead rabbit pickup.

To pass the time while I waited, I went back to the cactus bed and pansies. Three black widow spiders later, I threw down my gloves and retreated into the house, thoroughly disgusted with our stinking, venom-infested yard. (I can’t bear to post another black widow portrait. For those who are curious, previous photos appear here and here.)

By sunset, the dead rabbit was gone and my arachnophobia tremors had eased. I returned to the cactus bed, finished my clean-up work, and planted the pansies. Camera time! Except, as I went inside, something under the still-gaping hole in our deck caught my eye. Yesterday’s rabbit was not the first to die there.

I want to believe these bones pre-date us, that the rabbit died long before we moved in. Because I don’t want our yard to be a death and spider yard.

At least, I don’t want our yard to be only a death and spider yard.

Despite days like yesterday, I can’t love a yard that is all flowers and moths. Such a place would never be truly alive.

Another Black Widow Spider (Arachnophobia Alert!)

We are still finding black widow spiders in the yard and garage. Hopefully this winter will be cold enough to eradicate the majority of them.

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?