Pet of the Month
Although Mia is quite shy, after discussing it with her, she is willing have her story made public.
“Mia, my pet, is a female western black widow spider (Latrodectus hesperus ). She has been under my care for two years and was probably a year old when I acquired her. Female black widows have been known to live for four years in captivity.
I was walking with a friend in Washington Park and she asked me (just making conversation) if I had any pets. I said “no” and that the only pets I have had were black widow spiders. She exclaimed that she had caught one several months ago. Upon returning to her home, we found the spider still alive in a totally empty glass jar. I took her home; Mia is a rescue spider. She now lives in a Quaker Oats cereal box covered with perforated clear plastic wrap sitting on my kitchen counter. Black widows prefer to live in dark holes or corners.
Mia is fed a cricket every six weeks or so. I find the movement of Mia in her irregular web quite fascinating. Crickets often freeze when they find themselves entangled in spider web. When alerted, Mia will sometimes try to figure out where the cricket is by gently pulling on some silk strands. Then she may begin carefully searching. The way she stalks her prey, using caution and then aggression, displays a real intelligence. The way she takes silk from her spinnerets with her hind legs and wraps her prey is mesmerizing. (I have a 28 minute video of Mia securing a cricket). At some point, she will bite the cricket, injecting venom and/or digestive enzymes. Once her prey is secured with silk, she feeds for eight to ten hours. She then cuts the carcass loose and its falls to the bottom. Mia spends most of her time motionless, hanging upside down in her web. Spiders have a number of spinnerets on their abdomen from which different kinds of silk serving different purposes are produced.
Mia is sterile. She has not produced an egg sack. I have had black widows before that did produce an egg sack. Many tiny baby spiders eventually emerge and their instinct is to get away. They will climb out on a thread of silk they have produced with hope to be carried away by the wind. If the babies are kept together in a jar, they will eat each other until only a couple of bigger babies remain. Male black widows are much smaller, shorter-lived, and lighter in color than the females. If disturbed, Mia will hurry to a minimal nest she has built. When I clean her cereal box cage of dead crickets and tangled web, she drops to the bottom, curls all her eight legs in and becomes a ball.
"Nature, in its many forms, is wondrous.” -Tom Arrison