The Black Widow Spider Dilemma

A few days ago, my husband declared he had found a spider that might be a Black Widow in a corner of the garage.  I was ushered in to perform a closer inspection (since Mr Pict and the kids have varying degrees of arachnophobia) and to identify the spider and then deal with it accordingly.

Obviously we are very aware that there are Black Widows in this area.  As I have discussed before, we are on a steep learning curve when it comes to dangerous beasties since Britain only has one venomous critter (the adder snake – and it’s pretty timid) and no rabies.  That said, in all of his years growing up in America, Mr Pict never once encountered a wild Black Widow.  I was, therefore, pretty confident that the spider inhabiting our garage was not remotely a Black Widow.  I mean, that would be as unlikely as Black Bears roaming the streets because they fancy hitting up a Wawa for a snack. Oh yes.  That happened.

So I scooched down into that dank and dusty corner of the garage and had a look at the suspect.  Certainly it was the right size and shape and proportions to be a Black Widow (I have seen them in captivity as well as in books) but it was not shiny black.  I was about to dismiss the idea entirely but wanted to double check that this was not some other spider we might not want to have malingering in our garage.  To my phone and google I went.  Actually first I tried that (soon to be deleted) app CamFind.  I snapped the Spider but the app’s suggestion that what I had taken a photo of was a grey-brown spider was not especially helpful.  Google was more helpful.  I pulled up a page about identifying Black Widows and started to compare notes.  Our eight-legged guest was definitely very similar to a Black Widow, including its web construction, but it was definitely dark grey and brown rather than black.  I could not see the underside of its abdomen and was not about to start picking it up but at that point but I assumed that Mr Pict had misidentified the spider.  Besides, it was in the garage so it didn’t really matter.

Later on, however, while waiting for some food to cook, I idly looked at the google results again and clicked on a different link.  This one was much wordier but critically it explained that some northern Black Widows are not in fact black.  They can be grey or brown.  Furthermore they do not all have the red hourglass under their abdomen.  Some may have a very faint and almost self-coloured hourglass shape.  Ugh.  I was compelled to go back into the garage and see if I could see the abdomen.  Our compliant spider had moved around on its web so that, by tilting by head uncomfortably close to the wall, I could make out the underside of the abdomen.  There it was: the tell-tale hourglass.  I was more annoyed that Mr Pict had been correct than anything.  He once misidentified a groundhog as a possum so I don’t place much stock in his creature identification skills.

That’s when the conundrum began.  What should I do with the Black Widow inhabiting our garage?

My first and strongest thought was to just leave it be.  We don’t use the garage except for storing some tools so it was doing no one any harm.  It was right in the corner of the room, beside the exterior door too, not near the door that connects to the house.  The chances of an encounter were slim.  We can live in harmony with nature, even if that nature is a bit more ferocious than we are used to.  That was how it went on for a couple of days.

Then Mr Pict went into the garage and – not being able to stop himself from checking in on the spider – he noticed egg sacs.  Oh dear.  That was a game changer.  One spider was easy to live in harmony with.  A whole bunch of spiders marauding through the garage, maybe even the house, trying to stake out their own territories, was a whole other issue.  My kids wig out every time they happen upon a spider unexpectedly as it is.  I can usually dismiss their worries without even budging.  However, if I happened to know that a Black Widow had just spawned a bunch of baby minions in the vicinity, I would perhaps have to encourage their vigilance and keep checking the spiders each time they met.

Roll on dilemma.

I considered relocating the spider.  I could get it and its egg sacs into a jar and take them outside and release them … where?  Where, in all conscience, could I transplant a Black Widow to?  Not to the garden because then it would be an even more unexpected encounter between it and the kids.  Do I just deposit it in a park or something? But what if I subsequently read that someone had been bitten by a Black Widow and it might possibly have been “my” one.  No, that would never do.

All of the guides I read online about how to “deal” with Black Widows said to exterminate them.  They were emphatic on that point in fact.  However, when you’ve lived your whole life in a country where no critter can kill you beyond a sheep or deer lurching in front of your car, it is very hard to wrap your head around actually taking the life of an animal.  I did poison ants when we lived in Essex because they were getting into all of our food but invasion is an act of aggression, right?  So I was only defending myself.  This spider wasn’t even giving me a nasty sideways glance.  Well, that I could tell.  I wasn’t risking getting close enough to its many eyes to determine that.  Could I deal with killing a spider and its unborn spiderlings?  Could I have that stain on my conscience?  It was a genuine ethical dilemma.  Regardless of the fact that Black Widows are not endangered, I had to give it some deep thinking.  I couldn’t just snuff out a living thing that easily.  So I let the spider keep on squatting in the garage for another 24 hours.

Reader, I confess.  I killed the spider.  It was the egg sacs that troubled me the most.  It was the thought of all those spiderlings ranging out across the garage, probably entering the basement, and my four sons perhaps being bitten.  Not all at once.  I know Black Widows don’t attack in herds.  Like velociraptors.  I know the possibility was slim but, as a parent, I didn’t want there to be even a slim possibility.  The spiders had to be eliminated.  I put my wellies on – just in case – and reminded my kids that the emergency number here is 911 and not 999 – doubly just in case – and I headed into the murk of the garage to commit my foul deed.  Insecticide was the weapon of choice.  I took no pleasure in directing the spray at the web but I was thorough.  I killed a spider and its unborn spiderlings and I am not proud and it doesn’t sit easily with me.  

This was not a “first experience” I relished.  I hope it was a first and last.

I also hope it really was a Black Widow.

Small Differences: Rabies

Today I received an email from the Township informing me that a local skunk was found to have rabies.  Yes, as if a skunk being near you wasn’t bad news enough, this particular offender was rabid.  I picked up this email on my phone while eating lunch.  Such appetising news.  But I’ve never had to really think about rabies before so this is an interesting development for me.

Great Britain, by virtue of being an island nation, is rabies free.  Well, technically it is.  Sometimes an occasional international flying bat makes its way to Britain carrying the rabies virus and I remember tales of rabid foxes hiking through the Channel Tunnel, though how true that is I don’t know.  Generally, however, in Britain we don’t have to fret about rabies.  It is something that I have been peripherally aware of because of travelling but I’ve never really, properly had to think about it.

Now that I live in America, I am going to have to get used to all sorts of new “rules” about bugs and beasties.  In 2000 I was on a road trip in the South West of the US and was scooping lizards up into my hands in the desert.  My brother-in-law thought I was nuts and dragged me to look at a book at the Ranger Station that was about identifying venomous and poisonous creatures, his point being that I was picking them up willy nilly not knowing which critters were friendly and which would have me writhing in agony, flicking through a book desperately attempting to identify the culprit  in order to determine which anti-venom serum I needed.  In the UK we have one “dangerous” critter, a snake called an adder.  That’s it.  Everything else is harmless.  That said, I did once still try to pick up an adder but it got away from me.  I don’t think adders are too aggressive though as, when I was a wee lassie, I was walking on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and jumped into some gorse that, it transpired, was an adder’s nest.  All the snakes did was quickly slither off while I was a bit startled.

Here in the US, however, there are a bunch of things that could inflict hurt and harm on me, from tiny spiders to angry snakes to cougars and bears.  I think even I would know not to try and interact with a mountain lion or grizzly, of course.  I can be a bit daft but I’m not that stupid.  But I do, for instance, need to get a clue about which spiders are OK and which are not.  And, lest we forget, I need to remember not to go near any critter that looks a bit crazy, twitchy or is foaming at the mouth.  I need to just stop picking up wild animals.