I’ve never really been grossed out by spiders. Yes, if one drops onto my shoulder I shriek and dance around like a possessed witch doctor, but on a normal day it isn’t unusual to find an eight-legged pal or two hanging around my kitchen sink or my bathroom counter. I hate gnats, moths and ants a lot more than I hate spiders. The enemy of my enemy and all that. Live and let live.
My one exception is black widow spiders. Growing up I was told never, ever, ever touch big shiny black spiders. Big black shiny spiders are vicious creatures with pointy, drippy fangs that lurk in the water shut-off valves. Big black shiny spiders will sink their poisonous teeth into your unsuspecting hand at the slightest provocation. Big black shiny spiders mean DEATH! Fortunately, they rarely dared to show their four pairs of eyes around my parent’s house.
So you can probably imagine I was not amused when they showed up en masse on my porch last week. I opened the door to let the dog out and nearly put my toe on one chilling calmly on a web cleverly spun between the door’s threshold and the ground. I looked up. There was another one on the barbeque. And another one leering at me from the porch chair. And another. And another. Thankfully, I kept my cool. I did not drop the baby. Instead I scurried back inside, leaving the dog to the wolves, and called Michael.
“Michael!” I whispered as I frantically Googled, “There are tons of black widow spiders on the back porch!”
Of the spiders capable of inflicting a poisonous bite, black widows are the most notorious, the University of Kentucky website helpfully told me, The female is about 1/2-inch long, shiny black and usually has a red hourglass mark on the underside of the abdomen.
“Do they have red marks on their abdomens?” Michael asked me.
I inched the door open. The spider by my feet might as well have been flashing me.
“Yup!” I said.
I read on. When found in homes, they are usually under appliances or heavy furniture and not out in the open like other cobweb spiders. Black widow spiders are timid, however, and will only bite in response to being injured. People are usually bitten when they reach under furniture or lift objects under which a spider is hiding.
I looked outside again. These black widows did not look timid at all. They looked beer-ed up and ready to party. The nearest one began stretching its legs. I slammed the door.
“Buy some spider spray!” I told Michael, “Home Depot probably has some. You’re going to need a lot.”
“Because you’re the husband. That’s what husbands do. It was part of our wedding vows.”
“No it wasn’t.”
“Hmmm, odd, I seem to remember something about black widow spiders in their somewhere…right next to the part where its your responsibility to take out the trash. Now just get the spider spray, stat!”
Six days and seventeen black widows later only a few wispy webs remain as a reminder of the gruesome battle waged on the back porch. We sprayed the outside of the house, the inside of the house, and everywhere in between. A few days into the battle we thought we had won, until an enormous black widow wobbled her way down the hall obviously mad with grief and looking for revenge and the spraying began again.
It was only after most of the clan was eradicated that I bothered to look up how deadly a black widow bite actually is. Apparently, its not all my parent’s tales about the big black shiny spider of DEATH cracked it up to be. Instead of melting instantly into a oozy green pile of goo, only 5% of black widow bite cases result in death. In most cases, prompt medical attention saves the day and victims only suffer painful abdominal cramps, nausea, and a fever.
A few days ago I was talking to my mother about our black widow infestation. I was expecting her to be surprised and horrified that these creatures had found their way onto my porch.
“Oh yes,” she said sympathetically, “Black widows are terrible! We used to have a horrible problem with them at the church we used to go to. They would make webs under the chairs in the sanctuary. I used to always tell the church elders about it, but they never did anything.”
Seriously, mom? While I was singing Amazing Grace all those years a huge shiny black widow of doom could have been lurking under my chair, waiting to chomp on my ankles, and you didn’t tell me? In retrospect, however, you probably would never have gotten me to set foot in that church again. So good thinking mom, good thinking.