The Black Widow

I was noticing that it was getting harder and harder to convince the dogs to go into the dog igloo after a treat and that was unusual for Cashew, who was very treat motivated. From time to time i threw treats in there to remind them they could enter in practice for a bad weather day. One afternoon i threw treats in there and Cashew wouldnt go in after them. I pointed and she reluctantly obliged and then jumped right out again. I had noticed there was some webbing showing up on the interior of the igloo but i didnt think anything of it. There were wolf spiders, orb weavers, and jumping spiders everywhere. It didnt cross my mind that it would be anything out of the ordinary. I just figured it was one of the usual harmless spiders that makes their home on the property.

When nightfall approached i went out to do the evening chores. At the end of my chores i always retrieve the water bowl from the dog run for the night and put it in the house. As i was doing that i went by the mouth of the dog igloo and my head lamp passed over the webbing, illuminating a big black spider with long slender legs the size of a beta fish. I first thought it was an orb weaver because of its size but my eyeballs caught sight of something my brain had not processed yet. A bit of red. Black spider…red on abdomen…. I moved closer to the webbing and pointed my head lamp down. I turned my head and got down on the ground to get a better angle. Yup. That was an hour glass, clear as day. A big red hourglass on the abdomen of a black spider with long slender legs. It was the biggest black widow spider i had ever seen in my life.

My first thought was to remove the dogs from the situation. They were ever curious and of course they wanted to know what it was that i was doing. I shouted at both of them to go to the house and sit on the porch and wait. I was reluctant to leave the spider lest it crawl from my sight but i had to let the dogs in the house and grab a weapon as well. I mean, it wasn’t like i was going to kill it with my bare hands. I should mention that i have a fear of black widow spiders that stems from childhood when we had to be picked up by our parents in the middle of the school day and stay out of school for a week because they were fumigating because our crazy principle had lined the halls with hundreds of terrariums from her property containing snakes and lizards and all sorts of tarantulas but her prized possession was a black widow spider located in the library and she was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the babies in her egg sac. Well, she didnt realize the babies could easily fit through the mesh breathing holes in the lid of the container and suddenly the library was overrun with thousands of baby black widow spiders. She maintained that she, rather than the traumatized children, was the victim because for the safety of the children and continuation of school courses she had to consent to her grandspiders being obliterated. All the terrariums went back home with her for their own safety because if they stayed at the school they would have been fumigated.

In one of my clinical assignments at a hospital as a student in the ota program i encountered a patient that had been bit by a brown recluse spider who crawled into his pant leg while he was clearing brush and digging up stumps. He and his wife were having marital issues because he was always bailing on hanging out with the family for work and so when they went to visit her folks and he knew he had been bit by something, he didnt want to bail on the trip lest it end their marriage so he toughed it out and did not seek treatment. It got a lot worse before she discovered it and drove him to the emergency room. They were still married. His leg was not fine.

So here i am staring at this impressive specimen of a black widow and she has two egg sacs in her web. I am 1000 times more afraid of this thing than i am a rattlesnake or a cottonmouth. I am staring at it, unmoving in its low hanging mess of a web. It is not where i can easily reach it. It is low to the floor of the igloo and kind of behind the lip of the doorway. I am thinking, i have no idea how fast this thing moves. I havent studied the behavior of black widows like i have jumping spiders, orb weavers, daddy long legs, tarantulas, or wolf spiders. I cant predict anything about its behavior. Is it the type to run or fight? How quick will it move? Will it hold a grudge if i miss? Im not sure about any of these things. I knew the proper thing to do would be research but this would also potentially give it a chance to slip away from my view. I couldnt believe how big it was. I just wanted to take care of it. I knew the best course of action would be to take something like the metal chicken coop door, get real close, and just smash it between the door and the igloo floor as hard as i could. However, because of where it was, i would have had to crouch, stick my head inside the mouth of the igloo with the spider, turn back so the light shone on it, cover it with the metal rectangle id dragged through the igloo door, and smash it a foot from my head and probably inches from my fingers. I didnt like this idea. I knew it was the most likely one to work but it put me entirely too close to the widow…at way too much risk. I had to stick my head and arms into the threads of her messy webbing in the mouth of the igloo to get this plan executed. I wouldn’t. I grabbed the shovel.

I knew the problem with this plan before going into it and i was disappointed in myself that i still chose it. The handle was too long and it needed to be an L shape rather than a stick. I’d never get the right angle to be able to chop or scoop the spider. I was right. It didnt work. She crawled up into the hardware of the igloo and refused to re-emerge all night.

I grew to hate the widow’s webbing with an intensity i hadn’t expected. It was messy and sticky beyond all get out. It stuck to everything, including the shovel, but it wouldn’t break apart. It was just everywhere and invincible and there was no beautiful structure to it. It wasn’t a geometric work of art. It was a mess of strings. Every time i tried to get her she went up into the hardware of the igloo. I tore down her webbing, smashed and vinegared the egg sacs, and returned each hour overnight to see if i could locate her. While i was at work she would put the webbing back up and then we would continue this dance come nightfall. I kept the dogs inside the house for three days while i knew she was still alive. I was trying not to spray anything poisonous in there out of respect for the dogs that had to use the igloo during bad weather. Then on the third night, there she was in the same difficult spot. I decided it was now or never. I had to kill her at all costs or we would never regain control of the dog run. She couldnt be allowed to procreate and make thousands of little widows all over my property like at the elementary school. I couldnt fumigate the whole woods. Oh it would be awful, theyd be everywhere, and then they’d make their own babies later. I grabbed a pitcher of vinegar, half a can of wasp spray, and the shovel. Out i went. I threw vinegar on her. She wriggled a bit, shook it off, and seemed fine. I then sprayed her with the wasp spray. She writhed and wriggled and then it wore off and she seemed fine. So i built a mountain of foam spray that began to envelop her webbing and then her. She writhed and wriggled. I waited to see if it would kill her. It didnt. What it did do was separate her from her web which was apparently losing its sticky properties in the foam. I then scooped the webbing and her into the flat part of the shovel and laid her on the dirt. I immediately and enthusiastically cut her into a thousand pieces with the blade of the shovel until she was unrecognizable as a spider. I had to pick through the dirt to find legs and goo to convince myself i had really killed her. I hadn’t imagined it. It happened. I did it. I got her. I killed her. She was dead. I examined the legs again to make sure.

I kept the dogs in the following day because the second half of the job would be washing all the poison out of the dog igloo before the dogs could re-inhabit the run.

I came home from work, connected a hose to the well house spigot, stretched it over to the dog run, put a sprayer on the end, and turned on the water. I sprayed the dog igloo with pressurized water until i was sure all the poison was washed out. I then covered the inside of the igloo with peppermint and tea tree oil. No spiders have been in since. Apparently they dont like the smell. I will have to reapply tea tree oil from time to time. The igloo was meant to be a habitat for the dogs, not disturbingly large widows with long slender legs. I never want to see a black spider with a red hour glass that big ever again. Apparently wolf spiders only eat baby ones but mud dobbers do eat adults. I will no longer be spraying the mud dobbers. The dogs returned to the run but the tea tree oil seems to have put them off the igloo as well. I dont care. As long as it keeps the venomous spiders away. Away, away, away.

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  1. When we lived in California, I found black widows inside our house. We even had one spin a web inside the mailbox. I hung my clothes out on the line. My son went down to a local store for candy. He took the change out of his pocket and sat it on the counter. The clerk wouldn’t take it because there was a dead black widow spider along with the change. I hate those things.

  2. I was a little kid when I encountered my first Black Widow spider. I plucked it out of it’s web and while it’s legs were flailing in the air, I carried it to a gallon pickle jar. Just as I was putting it into the jar, my mom saw it, and me, and “about had a heart attack”. The spider lived about a month on a diet of moths that I would catch for it. My mom gave me a mostly unsaid warning, “If it gets out……..” The “unsaid” part made the warning even more scary. 🙂

    I don’t know how I didn’t get “bit”…and catching one is something I no longer do. 🙂

  3. My mom was a nurse practitioner-midwife. I wouldn’t be surprised if she asked about, or looked up in a reference, the symptoms of a black widow bite and it’s treatment……..and then watched me *VERY* carefully.

    Looking back, I’m amazed that my parents were “okay, but be careful” about a lot of things I did.

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