Black Widow

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Some (many?) of you readers may recoil in dismay at today’s post and say of me:  “There he goes again with that creepy stuff!”  Well, it’s that time of year when the available subjects often tend to be less cuddly than the wildlife that is available to photograph at other times of the year.  Besides, my intent with this blog is to post images of all of the life forms that I see in our desert.  My motto, as always, is: if it has DNA and it lives here I’ll photograph it.

Black Widow Spiders are distributed throughout the United States.  There are regional variations with the “classic” Black Widow being the “southern” variant.  There are color differences between variants, mostly subtle.  There are also a couple of related species — the Red Widow (basically, a Black Widow with red legs), and the Brown Widow.

The images posted here are of  Black Widows that are most likely of the southern variety.  In Arizona there is also a “western” variety, but, as I’ve said, the differences in appearance are subtle.  The two individuals that I photographed were hanging out last night (literally) in a rest room at Sabino Canyon.  Actually, last night was Venom Night for me because I also photographed an extremely handsome Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.  The snake will show up on this blog in a few days.

Both of the spiders that I depict are females.  Males are much smaller than the females and are a nondescript brown in color.

Black Widows are easily identifiable by their all-black legs and bodies and by the well-known red “hourglass” marking on their abdomens.  Actually, the “hourglass” is more like an inverted triangle over a rectangle and there is a fair amount of variation, both in shape and color, from individual to individual. The second individual’s marking includes a triangle over a somewhat irregular shape and the marking is deep orange rather than red.

Variations aside, a large, shiny black spider with a red or orange marking on its abdomen is almost certainly a Black Widow.

These spiders are strictly nocturnal.  If I were to go back to that same restroom in daylight the Black Widows are almost certainly not going to be visible.  In daylight they retreat into cracks and crevices to await nightfall.

Black Widows have a well-deserved reputation for having highly toxic venom.  It is very toxic indeed.  But, your chances of being bitten by one of these spiders are miniscule and your chances of dying from its venom are so small as to be nonexistent.  The last recorded death from a Black Widow bite occurred in 2003.  People are more likely to be killed by one of these spiders than they are to be struck by a meteor, but statistically, the difference isn’t all that great.  Put it this way: far more people are killed each year by accidents involving cows than are killed by Black Widows.  Although the spider’s venom is highly toxic the amount that it injects is minute.  There is an antivenin available that may be administered in the case of a severe reaction to a bite.  However, of the tiny handful of people who are bitten by one of these spiders each year, most people suffer symptoms so mild that they are treated symptomatically (pain killers, anti-inflammatories, etc.) rather than with antivenin.

And, in fact, Black Widows are extremely timid and non-aggressive.  They won’t bite unless they are molested.  No one has ever been attacked gratuitously by one of these spiders.  Leave them alone and they won’t bother you.

Images made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180mm f3.5L Macro lens, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, ISO 160, f10 @ 1/160.

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