I don't have any prejudices against pesticides and I'll use them if the situation warrants it, but I prefer to have something resembling a functioning eco-system out there. Watching the cycles of life and death play out, and observing the dynamics of predator and prey is fascinating. I like to imagine myself to be a passive observer and so I tend to let the system out there regulate itself.
Well all of that changed on Sunday. I was watering my plants and I noticed something in the base of the pot I have a tangerine growing in. By base, I mean the drainage hole. The pot has side drainage (that allows the roots to air out between waterings --citrus trees love to have aired out roots). Anyhow, here's the the drainage hole.
I don't have a decent lens so the rest of the photos I'll use here are ones I found around the internet.
What I saw lurking around was this spider.
As a rule, spiders don't freak me out in the least. They are absolutely fascinating creatures and despite the fact that they are everywhere, how much we know about them doesn't amount to much. Most of them aren't too tough to identify but beyond that, nobody seems to know a whole lot about them.
The spider I saw was pretty small, about an eighth of an inch long, but I've been around enough to know what it was. I suspected from its body shape that it was a juvenile black widow and sure enough, I got a positive ID from The Bug Guide. The Bug Guide and its companion website What's That Bug? Are fantastic resources for IDing these sorts of things.
It's too small to be able to tell if it's a male or a female but based on my location , it's a safe bet to call it Latrodectus mactans, the Southern Widow Spider. L. mactans ranges as far north as New York State by the way, and there are members of the genus Latrodectus found all over the world.
Here's a photo of a mature Latrodectus mactans. Note that the hourglass shape is on its underside, not on its back as is commonly believed.
|via Appalachian Light|
That marking by the way, varies greatly from spider to spider and many of them do have red markings on their dorsal sides. Here's another photo of a mature female.
|via Wikimedia Commons|
Florida's also home (as are a lot of other places around the world) to another widow spider, Latrodectus geometricus. No one seems to know where L. geometricus originated but its range is spreading rapidly.
|via Wikimedia Commons|
Anyhow, widow spiders have a job to do and they're particularly good at it. While it's true that they can bite and that bite is not very pleasant, they aren't an aggressive species. Few spiders are. The only way that the L. mactans on my patio will ever bite me is if I pick it up once its an adult. Even if it did bite me, I have an intact immune system and no underlying health problems. Though it would hurt like crazy and not look real pretty as it healed, it wouldn't kill me.
When it's mature, it'll be nearly an inch long. That's big enough to take down a palmetto bug and that's makes L. mactans OK in my book.
At the same time though, it could also do a number on me. Though I'd never pick up an L. mactans, I could grab it accidentally while I'm puttering around out there some day.
So what to do? Do I mete out the terrible, swift justice of a can of Raid or do I let it go about its life in the base of my tangerine? On one hand, it's a beautiful creature. It's perfectly evolved for the life it leads. On the other hand, it's my patio and my interests trump the spider's.
What would you do?