Friday, April 8, 2011

My Lucky Black Widow Spider

Packed and ready to go!
Last night, after settling on the fact that I was going to have to take a bus, ferry and train with a black widow spider to bring her to an Animal Rescue place in Brooklyn that would be willing to take her if I brought her, I received a trip-saving facebook message.

One of my coworkers, Kelly (from the world of the science department, of course), informed me that she may be able to help! She had a friend who worked in the Staten Island Children's Museum and they had a "spider guy" who might be interested in my find. We wouldn't know until this morning, but that was OK, because the rescue place didn't open until 11 am anyway!

When I got the call this morning, it was awesome. This guy Frank was interested and he would come to me! I gave him a call right away, gave him my address and went to get the two jars. The new, second jar contained the "babies" we tried to capture yesterday evening. We only got about five of them, but they definitely were not calm like Portia was. I did not like them.

When the guy came he was impressed that we captured them and took a look at Portia. He said, "Wow... yeah, that's a northern black widow. No... wait," as he turned the jar at another angle, so he could see her even better, "that's a sourthern black widow." I am not a fan of my ability to surprise experts (I was getting flashbacks to my IIH diagnosis!).

I asked him what the difference was. He said that these black widows would typically start in Georgia and go down to Florida, not work their way up to New York. He said the difference was that southern black widows had a complete red hourglass on their abdomen while a northern black widow had two red triangles that didn't meet. And the final confirmation was the red markings where she spun her silk from. She was definitely a southern black widow spider and she had absolutely NO BUSINESS being in MY backyard in Staten Island, New York!

Frank then took a look at the "babies." He said they were not widows at all  as he took the lid off the jar. I nearly leaped to Polaris. He laughed, of course. He explained that they were normal house spiders. I explained that those guys love me.

After a cursory look around the exterior of the house and a look at the infamous red pot that black widow was found in, it was decided that she probably came from the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge that I live down the block from. I was pretty surprised by this, but Frank said that this was only the third black widow spider that he has been called in on in 30 years. He said that people often call saying they have a black widow, but when he gets there, they were wrong.

My husband has been completely freaked out by this and thinks we should play the lotto. I told Frank this. He said, "With odds like this, maybe you should!" So I am sure, at some point tonight, we will be going to buy some lotto tickets.

From my perspective, though, I think I've already been pretty lucky with my black widow spider find. Here's why:
  • I don't ever have to worry about the impending doom of the day when I will finally be face-to-face, by myself with a black widow spider. I don't have to wonder how I will react, how it will react, whether or not I will survive, whether or not I will be able to warn others. I did it. It is over.
  • I honestly don't feel as terrified of black widow spiders. Frank explained that they don't "go after" humans. You either have to get pretty physical with one (practically squeezing it), or end up hitting her web to get bit. The web situation is scarier, since that can happen accidentally, but otherwise I almost asked him to open the jar so I could hold Portia. (He said he had a couple at home and handled them all of the time.)
  • No one got bit. None of the dogs (my two, or my cousin's two), or, more importantly, my cousin's one year old!
  • I didn't kill Portia. I found a good home for her, with other black widows where she can build webs and go meet children at museums and in classrooms. That feels the best of all. She was so respectful of me and my life, why shouldn't I do the same for her?
I hope Portia has as much fun being a teacher as I did. I think she'll be really good at it. I know she taught me a lot in the three days I knew her.


  1. Oh my you probably can't live where I do Spiders a plenty.. hope you are good I enjoyed our class and loved how you kept the blog going in one spot.

  2. interesting story. Not many people would "save" a black widow. We have them everywhere here in Utah. It's best not to stick your hand (or any other body part into a dark hole.) Thanks for stopping by my blog. I thought I'd stop by and find out a little bit more about you.