Ebony and ivory

A white spider consumes a bumblebee

Sucks out all of the goo

It's real bee stew and

It's fat-free!


Forgive me for making light of this poor bumblebee's demise. It's a defense mechanism. You see, spiders creep me out. I'm not afraid of snakes, not afraid of cats, and not even afraid of Nancy Grace as she tries to railroad innocent Duke lacrosse players to spike her ratings. But spiders -- well, they give me the willies.

Now as a learned human being, I know spiders perform a very important and valuable service to the ecosystem. They eat all sorts of bugs that would otherwise eat us out of house and home. Still, my first instinct when seeing a spider is to squash it. Spiders seem evil and dangerous. After watching that episode with Shelob in "The Lord of the Rings," I carried a magic sword for weeks.

Most spiders are harmless to humans -- except, of course, if you accidentally have your genes scrambled with those of a fly and wind up stuck in a web like poor little Andre crying, "Help me!"

Still, there are some kinds you really need to avoid, like these:


The Black Widow (aka "Wonder Woman" to feminists)

The scourge of outhouse toilet seats throughout the South, the female black widow (Latrodectus mactans), is around 1-inch long. She is shiny and black with a telltale red hourglass marking on the underside of her bulbous abdomen. She gets her name from her heartless habit of devouring the male soon after mating. This situation is the best argument I know for no-fault divorce.

Black widows favor dark, out-of-the-way places to build webs. Buried valve boxes for lawn sprinkler systems are favorite haunts. The spiders aren't aggressive, unless they feel threatened. The neurotoxic venom is quite potent, though nonfatal in the vast majority of cases. Symptoms include pain, muscle cramps, tremors, and nausea.


The Brown Recluse (aka violin spider)

Here in the South, this is the spider to really watch out for, though in most cases you'll never see it coming. It's shy and mostly nocturnal, hiding in garages, closets, basements, vents, stored clothes and shoes, boxes, furniture, and work gloves. The brown recluse (Loxoceles reclusa) is about 3/4-inch long and features a distinctive violin shape on its cephalothorax.

Many times, you won't even feel the bite. The venom kills tissue, as my wife discovered when she awoke one morning after feeling something crawling over her face. A small reddened ulcer appeared on her nose. It steadily enlarged, hardened, and then turned almost black. After 6 weeks, it finally healed, but not before leaving a deep pockmark that required cosmetic surgery to fix. Some bite victims also report fever and vomiting.


Hobo Spider

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, one bum you definitely don't want to meet is the hobo spider (Tegenaria agrestis). Somewhat larger than the brown recluse, it is indigenous to western Europe and was introduced into the northwestern U.S. near Seattle aboard commercial ships sometime in the 1930's. It's often called "the aggressive house spider" for its reputation for supposedly chasing people, but this is pure fantasy. It frequently takes up residence in homes. Its bite causes necrotic lesions similar to those made by brown recluses, but symptoms are generally milder.

Don't Walk This Way

I'll leave you with one nightmare you don't have to fear, but my sister-in-law, Penny, does. She's soon moving to Belize, home to the world's most poisonous spider, the fearsome Brazilian walking spider.


This beastie is named for its habit of wandering the jungle floor at night searching for prey, rather than building a web. Its genus name, Phoneutria, isGreek for "murderess." The Brazilian wandering spiders can grow to have a leg span of 4 to 5 inches. The one pictured here is P. nigriventer, probably the most dangerous species.

P. nigriventer venom contains a potent neurotoxin. A serious bite causes breathing problems and loss of muscle control, resulting in paralysis and eventual asphyxiation. Victims should seek immediate treatment. But the news isn't all bad. The venom also causes skyrocketing blood pressure, which in men acts like a triple shot of Viagra. Viva, Phoneutria!

Walking spiders usually hide out during the day, searching for cover in dark places. It gets its other common name, "banana spider," because it occasionally hitches a ride in shipments of bananas. In fact, one of these huge spiders recently emerged from a shipment of Honduran bananas in a Whole Foods Market in Tulsa.

The stock boy has not yet been found.


Thanks to Casey Pfleger for sending me the white spider photo. Grumpy