The very presence of a black widow spider, shiny black with a globe-shaped abdomen, strikes fear in most people.
And not just on Halloween.
"Many spiders will bite when trapped but black widow spiders (Theridiidae: Latrodectus) are the most dangerous North American species," write Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney in their newly published book, Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: A Guide to North American Species.
"Their strong venom can kill," agrees George C. McGavin in the Smithsonian Handbooks' Insects, Spiders and Other Terrestrial Arthropods, "but a fast-acting antivenom can be given by injection."
The black widow is a cobweb spider and "the females produce about 200 to 250 eggs, attached to the web in a sac," McGavin says.
So, where can you find black widow spiders? They're usually in more concealed places than the common house spider, which is "found in any dry structure, including houses, basements an barns, as well as under natural 'roofs' such as overhanging ledges," according to Eiseman and Charney.
And, Eiseman and Charney point out, the black widow spider webs are "composed of extremely strong, coarse threads"--unlike those of common house spiders.
McGavin says black widow spiders are commonly found in leaf litter, under stones and in and around buildings.
We sighted one under leaf litter recently at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. Its distinguishing mark: the reddish-orange hourglass on its stomach.
Then last week we spotted a black widow spider guarding her gumdrop-sized sac in a secluded area of a UC Davis parking garage.
She didn't pay attention to the "permit parking only" signs.
She didn't come home last night.
The little honey bee at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, wound up in a spider's stomach.
This morning we stopped by the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre bee friendly garden planted last fall next to the facility, and a spider was having breakfast--one of Susan Cobey's New World Carniolans.
We spotted the same spider chowing down on a ladybug during the grand opening celebration on Saturday, Sept. 11, and we remember saying "Good, it didn't get a bee."
This time it did.
I jokingly asked beekeeper Elizabeth Frost, staff resource associate who works with Cobey at the Laidlaw facility, if she were missing any bees. (After all there are "only" about six million of them in the apiary.)
It would have been hilarious if she had said "Did a bed check. One unaccounted for."
Bank robbers rob banks because that's where the money is.
Spiders lurk in flowers because that's where the insects are. Whether they spin a sticky web, ambush their prey or just outrun or outmaneuver insects, spiders are there.
This morning a spider successfully trapped a honey bee in what amounted to an intricate "world wide web" connecting a tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) to catmint (Nepeta).
But just as the hungry predator began racing toward its struggling prey, something unexpected happened.
Freedom. The photographer flicked the web and released the bee.
Just in time for National Pollinator Week.
A spider web is nature's lace, a symmetrical work of wonder.
Well, a sticky, deadly trap if you're an insect. Then you become just another tasty morsel for the predacious, albeit artistic, spider.
Watching an orb weaver or garden spider maneuver a web is like watching a circus acrobat glide from one silken rope to another.
The finished product--a combination of delicacy and strength--looks like the needle lace doily that your great-grandmother crafted for her parlor chairs.
Sure, some folks hate spiders and every time they see one, they gasp in horror or harbor thoughts of spidercide.
Me, when I see one, I spray a little water to highlight the art. Then I grab the camera.
Fact is, you should welcome garden spiders into your garden and let them "put a spin on it." These little arachnids will snare such insects as flies, gnats and mosquitoes.
Charlotte, where are you?
The rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) attracts its share of insects.
This morning the brilliant magenta blossoms drew honey bees, carpenter bees and hover flies.
As a hover fly (aka syrphid fly or flower fly) gathered nectar, a spider crawled up a leaf of the succulent, presumably to check out the best place to weave a web.
The rock purslane is drought-tolerant and a good plant for xeroscaping.
And perfect for attracting pollinators--and an occasional spider.