Saturday, December 15, 2007


A few weeks ago I ran across a series of books in the library about spiders. Each book was dedicated to a single spider, or type of spider. I checked out all that were available: The Garden Spider, The Wolf Spider, The Black Widow, and The Brown Recluse. They were easy to read, so I was hoping to gain some knowledge for myself, while entertaining and educating Max and LMark, who will pick up any bug without prejudice or fear.

When I was pregnant with Ella I was bitten on my leg by a brown recluse. I didn't see it, but the bullseye-looking wound it produced was characteristic of that type of spider. I had to take a higher dose of antibiotics than doctors typically give a pregnant woman. I also had to keep my leg elevated with a heating pad on the bite for a week, while changing the bandage and medicating the wound three times a day. Fortunately (other than Ella's extraordinary climbing and crime-fighting skills) there were no lingering effects of the spider bite.

According to a Ukranian and a Serbian I know, if you find a spider in your house it means you are going to have a guest soon. Presumably you are not supposed to squish it. If you do it means you will be a bad host. So, for the sake of my Slavic friends, I have made every attempt to avoid squishing spiders I find in my home. Rather, I try to transfer them to the outdoors via Kleenex.

As we were inserting the branches into the trunk of our fake Christmas tree last week, I noticed a spider dangling from one of the plastic holes. It had all of the characteristics of a black widow--except the red hour glass on its back. The hour glass shape on this spider's back was cream-yellow.

While checking out the spider books from the library put me in the position to learn about black widows, it would have been better if I had read them. If I had read them I would have been certain of this spider's identity, instead of waffling between the question of being a good hostess or certain injury.

I was fairly sure what this spider was, so I opted for cautiousness and began educating the children on the characteristics of a black widow--at a safe distance.

Rose heard me from the kitchen and joined us. Using an authoritative tone of voice she only saves for special occasions, she said, "Mom, black widows are not web-spiders. They're jumping spiders."

I looked at her doubtfully. "Rose, I'm pretty sure this is a black widow, even though the hour glass is yellow."

She defended her position manfully. I finally said, "Honey, go look in the book."

We watched the spider with mingled fear and awe.

Rose returned, "Mom, you're right. It's a web spider."

Margaret had already returned with a shoe--not a Kleenex.