Widow dressed in black Guardian of her cosmos Gossamer egg case
Red hourglass tracking time Cobweb cradling future
So in full disclosure, I took poetic license with my tanka because this spider is actually a brown widow, Latrodectus geometricus, a cousin of the famous or rather, infamous black widow, Latrodectus mactans.
This spider was found living in a storm drain on the green roof of the building in which I work. The installation of this green roof included a grant for a three year study which required testing the quality of rain water after it filtered through the green roof plants and media. I run a laboratory that tested this water. The roof was equipped with ten stormwater drainage basins and this particular brown widow decided to take up residence in the lucky number seven basin. She turned it into her nursery and her spiky, virus looking egg case was suspended in her dew drop bedazzled gossamer web. What looked like the moon rising behind her was in fact, the reflection of rainwater collected in a sample bottle suspended in the drain. My colleague had lifted the drain cover to grab the water sample and while she didn’t leap back or scream, Ms. Widow definitely got her attention. My colleague was about to put her entire arm down this drain to pull out the water sample!
The brown widow is easily identified from the black widow by their unique egg case, mottled brown legs and body plus a wider, orange hourglass on their abdomen. While their venom is potentially just as toxic as the black widow, their delivery system is not of the same magnitude. They cannot inject as much volume of venom as their black widow cousin therefore while their bite can be nasty, it is rarely deadly. With a wide distribution, the brown widow can be found in Africa, Australia, Japan, India, Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula, South America, Central America, and more recently the southern parts of North America. This photo was taken in Florida where they are first thought to have gained a foothold in North America and they were identified as Florida residents as early as the 1930’s. Now they have spread north and even west to California in the last 20 years. An invasive species, the brown widow seems to out compete the black widow for similar habitat and are therefore becoming the predominant widow species. That egg case contained approximately 150 eggs that should have hatched into baby spiders after about 20 days of incubation Having deployed the sample bottle the night before and noting the pristine nature of this egg case, it was clear it had been recently deposited.
Finding this spider mesmerizingly beautiful, I pulled out my iPhone and took a couple of photos. I would have loved to have come back at the end of the 20 day incubation period to see the baby spiders hatch but unfortunately we had a job to do. We did not kill her or her babies though. Instead we gently lifted her and her egg case out with a stick and placed her in the surrounding vegetation before proceeding to grab our water sample.
As mentioned above, this photo was taken using my iPhone and the post processing was very simple, consisting of cropping the spider so that she and her egg case were framed by the drain opening. I also pulled a few details out of the egg case using the lightroom mobile app. It was a shame we had to disturb her. She looked so peaceful tending her delicate egg case in the homespun gossamer cradle. That storm drain was her entire world, her entire cosmos. She didn’t have a clue what world lay outside the green roof and It made me wonder about our own planet, solar system, galaxy and beyond. Are we in our own giant cosmic storm drain?