WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

Black Widow Spiders in Delaware

As I was walking down a path along the C & D Canal, just off Dutch Neck Road south of Delaware City, and just some yards away from where some folks were fishing, I observed a female Northern Black Widow Spider on her web. The web seemed rather random, with no magnificent pattern as you find with some other spiders.

That was the second Northern Black Widow Spider for me this month; as I noted in my earlier blog, I observed the other at night in the New Jersey Pine Barrens near Warren Grove.

I confess I hadn't realized Black Widows occurred this far north so I researched their occurrence. Turns out Northern Black Widows can be found throughout the eastern United States, from southern Canada south to Florida. And the "Southern" species can be found as far north as Delaware.

The distinctive red "hour glass" stigma on the underside of the abdomen is incomplete or split in the middle for the Northern species.

The venom of Black Widows is amazingly 15 times as toxic as that of rattlesnakes. Fortunately, being much smaller creatures, Black Widows don't inject nearly as much. But Black Widow bites are obviously nothing to sneeze at. The pain occurs almost immediately, and is said to be intense. It builds over 1---3 hours, but can last up to 24 hours. Large muscles can become rigid with spasms, and the victim can experience rises in body temperature and blood pressure. The person suffering the bite may sweat profusely.

Severity of the reaction depends on many factors, including age and size of the person bitten; location of the bite; depth of the bite; and when the spider last used its venom. Mortality rate: 1%, mostly children.

Jim White, Associate Director of Land & Biodiversity Management for the Delaware Nature Society, tells me Black Widows typically occur in a swath extending from Newark south through Kent and Sussex Counties. They are rare or absent in Piedmont Country -- Delaware's higher elevations -- just south of the Delaware--Pennsylvania arc.

Fortunately, Black Widows typically will avoid an encounter with humans rather than attacking. The one I photographed began scurrying to the ground. Jim White tells me hunters and fishermen walking through brush will rarely encounter these arachnids. People bringing in firewood downstate appear to be the most vulnerable.

Searching around the internet, I found one report of Black Widows around a recycling receptacle in a beach area.

To switch to likable invertebrates, you can check out the butterflies seen in Delaware and adjacent states - not to mention around the country - on the "Sightings" page of NABA, the North American Butterfly Association. Please do forward me photos if you want me to identify anything...


Posted at 6:52pm on May 29, 2012 by Allan Loudell

<- Back to all Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell posts

Comments on this post:

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 12:53pm
Much has been speculated upon the demise of the honey bee across the USA.

Confession here: I last mowed my lawn Friday the week before. It was still pristine on Monday, and then the excessive heat hit. Surprisingly, the heat caused some flowers to add about 6 inches then bloom in less than 24 hours, and those long things that kids can wrap the stems around the old blossom heads and shoot at people, seemed to add 6 inches as well. And... the clover bloomed.

Intimately knowing chemical structures from my study of Organic Chemistry, for the sake of my pets and children, we chose to refrain from using the weed and grow treatments that burst on the scene a while ago, coincidentally, right at the same time bees began disappearing.

Because of our restraint, my yard in the heat had erupted into a white carpet of clover blossoms. And around my feet, I counted in a glance, perhaps 15 to 20 honey bees. These were the ones with the amber striped abdomens, not the newer species appearing recently, similar in the head and thorax areas, but with almost white and black striped abdomens.

Around the nearby flower garden, as usual, nary one honeybee. In fact, the only time I see honey bees is when my clover blooms, and that happens rarely, only when I am negligent in my duty as the prime caretaker of the outside of my house..

Standing in a sea of white, looking up and down my neighbors yards, all I saw were the green lawns of manicured grass, probably Kentucky Blue. One yard, (rentals), had a small patch of clover blooming as well.

I'm not that old, but I can remember when clover was an accepted commodity in every yard in town. Every child spent at least one day of their lives looking for a four leafed one.

Could this widespread lack of clover, a very important food source for honey bees, be a potential factor in their recent population decline?

You can't live, if you can't eat.....

So I here offer this tiny piece of a random observation just in case anyone out there is as concerned about this extinction as I am.

All I'm saying is that they've been extinct in my yard for years, and suddenly, here they were in numbers.

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 1:55pm
Just curious, would anyone out there be interested in pursuing the a legislative option of having DNREC sow the bare embankments along roadsides with milkweed to possibly assist with the continuation of the Monarch species of butterfly?

Allan Loudell
Mon, Jun 25, 2012 6:54pm

The honeybee indeed seems to be making a comeback in some areas.

And yes, honeybees will nectar with abandon on clover blossoms.

I suspect widespread use of insecticides has contributed to the depletion of "beneficial" insects. Such insecticides are not as species-specific as the manufacturers claim.
How or why did America begin its love affair with manicured grass?

For several reasons, I suspect:

(1). Many Americans really don't like nature, certainly not the nasty insects and arachnids, and some rodents too. (In the case of ticks, which seem to occur disproportionately in these parts, I can understand that tendency!) Pristine manicured lawns repel most insects and consequently spiders too. Parents might fear kids walking barefoot on a clover yard (as fluffy as that feels) might be stung by nectaring bees.

(2). Historic: The United States was first colonized in the East, and the Brits wanted to bring their pristine lawns to this side of the Atlantic.

(3). Class: For obvious reasons, the upper classes would generally have the most pristine, manicured lawns.

(4). In turn, some neighborhoods and communities might frown on anything other than the conventional lawns.

On Milkweed and other nectar along highways, particularly in the median strip areas: I have mixed emotions. I encourage planting for butterflies and most other nectaring insects. Conversely, I always fear such stretches of nectar might attract butterflies and other nectaring insects, only to be hit by vehicles whizzing by. (I would love to see a study on that subject). That said... I suspect Monarchs are somewhat more adept at avoiding speeding vehicles, as they tend to fly higher as part of their migration.

Chicago's famous North Michigan Avenue has a long median stretch of flowers and I've seen both Monarchs and Cabbage Whites nectaring. I've never seen any butterfly road-kill along that famous stretch (which I'd be more apt to notice!). But, vehicles travel at a considerably lower speed along North Michigan Avenue, and have to stop at lights.

Allan Loudell

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 9:05pm
I was intrigued by your 4 reasons for manicured lawns.

The only problem with that interpretation, is that those who are most fastidious about their lawns, ironically tend to also have the most disrespect for anything academic.

So instead of your four, I think the main reason, is simply because of Lowes and Home Depot, both of whom enabled us to do it because we can.

If one neighbor has all Kentucky Blue, two inches tall, your lawn next cannot help but to appear skimpy. So the next time as you walk through the Garden Center, there is a display put there just for you, that beckons to you psychologically..."you don't have to be second anymore..."

And the benefit of no bugs... no ticks, no ants, no roaches, no grubs, no worms, no beatles (lol), is a hard one to turn down. Only the most astute, are aware of the virtual desert devoid or life existing underneath their Scott's brand carpet and cognizant of the danger that without some of those other life forms, their beautiful carpet is not self sustaining....

That would me my take, although I like yours better. And my opinion is just based on my perspective that those who are most fastidious about their lawns, were not those academics paying super close attention in science classes... :)

Add your comment:
Attention: In an attempt to promote a level of civility and personal responsibility in blog discussions, we now require you to be a member of the WDEL Members Only Group in order to post a comment. Your Members Only Group username and password are required to process your post.

You can join the WDEL Members Only Group for free by clicking here.
If you are already a member but have forgotten your username or password, please click here.

Please register your post with your WDEL Members Only Group username and password below.

Copyright © 2014, Delmarva Broadcasting Company. All Rights Reserved.   Terms of Use.
WDEL Statement of Equal Employment Opportunity and Outreach