Not quite over it yet


I know this is a poor showing for National Wildlife Week, but hey, I think every week is National Wildlife Week, so chill. I been busy.

Anyway, in poking around today after staging a few shots for a presentation, I came across this little lovely, in a very typical place for such: on a rock, in a cranny sheltered by a clump of leaves. This is a southern black widow (Lactrodectus mactans) almost certainly a juvenile. When hatched, they are rusty orange with rows of dots on the backs of their abdomens, and none of the classic markings that we usually associate with widows. As they get older, they gradually change colors, becoming more glossy black and developing red markings – the classic hourglass on the underside of the abdomen, and often a row of dots or markings down the “spine.” I suspect this one is a male, but I’m not sure about that; the coloration of the legs and the larger pedipalps seems to indicate such, but I didn’t think they possessed the globular abdomen like the females do. All the entomologists reading can weigh in if they like. I did get a good look at the hourglass marking later on, which makes me confident this is the southern variant, since the marking was not separated in the middle as the northern variants display – yes, they overlap territory seriously, and both actually inhabit the entire east coast. I apologize for not having clearer pics, but I hadn’t attached a flash yet and was working with natural light. When I returned a couple minutes later with the flash, my subject had taken a powder.

That’s typical, too. Despite the potency of their venom, black widows are actually quite shy, nearly reclusive you might say (sorry,) and seek shelter almost immediately upon danger threatening. This one was kind enough to hold still for several frames, including the scale illustration below, before ducking out of sight again.

Now, I grew up arachnophobic, I’m not really sure why, and have made efforts to get over it, because spiders are cool macro subjects, and ubiquitous – I saw three different species in the immediate vicinity while shooting this one. I can handle most of the smaller ones, and actually like the various jumping spiders, even though my first memorable experience with spiders was with a jumper that I was convinced was a black widow instead [I removed a plastic protective cap from my backyard slide set one day when I was five or so, and a good-sized jumping spider leapt out and posed dramatically, hazzah! Since I had no idea what black widows really looked like, I figured the bigger and hairier, the more dangerous, not to mention only mean spiders would jump out like that; I screamed and slid down the slide simultaneously, and didn’t go back for days.]

I have gotten past that almost completely, enough to put my finger practically on this spider’s leg for comparison. Almost. My flash unit has a zoom head, a motorized mechanism within that adjusts the illumination distance for whatever focal length I’m using; also, the camera itself times out and shuts off after a few minutes. While poking around trying to find my subject again for better shots with the flash, the camera timed out and shut itself off, and the flash head reset with an audible bzzzt! – while sitting directly under my chin. Yes, I jumped. Not completely over it yet…

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