To kill or not to kill? Sharing the world with black widow spiders

Black Widow Spider

“We don’t eat animals,” my 3-year-old told our new neighbor proudly before her smile turned to deep seriousness, “but, my papa kills black weirdos ’cause they will hurt me.”

“Widows,” I said quickly. “He kills black widows. Well, he used to.”

Despite warnings from friends, family, strangers, the postman and all the kids at my daughter’s most recent birthday party that spiders, especially black widows, are intent on murdering my children, I’ve finally convinced my husband to stop killing the black widow spiders he finds around our yard.

He’s come a long way. Almost vegan five years into our marriage, he grew up on the Atlantic coast of Spain boiling lobsters alive, enjoying Spain’s most famous delicacy, jamon serrano, almost every day and running with the bulls without a second thought until our first date.

Today you can find him building a luxury suite for the injured moth we’ve taken under our wing, or capturing and re-homing rouge spiders scurrying across the floor attempting to escape our cats’ merciless appetite for fun.

It’s obvious he’s embraced the world I’ve been immersed in since childhood with open arms. While I’m not arguing that it couldn’t fit the definition of insanity, I remember my mom spending the few hours she had between jobs dutifully scooping up seemingly endless parades of ants from our sink and depositing them oh-so gently outside before starting on the dishes. I knew to expect to be late anytime we had to pass a swimming pool as the desperate struggling from the thirsty insects who were unlucky enough to fall in could not be ignored.

I was usually happy to help, except when it came to the spiders. I didn’t want them to die, but I couldn’t bring myself to even look straight at the really creepy hairy ones. She’d often remind me that my screams at the sight of a spider were like a dinosaur running away terrified of a mouse. Logic aside, I still let her take care of capturing any stray arachnids and depositing them outside.

But black widows are a different story, especially since I have three young children intent on crawling through every crevice of our yard. Even someone as infatuated with preserving life as my mom insists we kill them.

As scary as the infamous black spiders with the red hour glass marking are to me, these arguments reminded me of so many I’ve heard before in defense of killing creatures that share space with humans. The recent tragic killing of the terrified mountain lion who inadvertently made its way into the urban jungle of Santa Monica was defended by the logic that there was a preschool across the street from where the animal was hiding.

We have to kill raccoons because the roundworm found in their feces could kill our kids. I’ve seen raccoons skulking around in the shadows of the night my whole life and I haven’t lost a friend to the worm yet. In fact, only five deaths have been recorded since 1981 in all of the United States.

The cars that speed by my house on any given morning pose more of a threat to my kids than any creature in my yard, but exterminating that hazard would probably be frowned upon.

So how did I get a once-live-lobster-boiling Spaniard to stop killing what everyone assures us are certain child-killers? Well, we conducted an unscientific experiment. In prime black widow territory, we removed all the black widows from the area and waited to see if my theory was correct. In less than a week, the three-foot length of wood fence had once again become prime black widow locale. Removing (or killing) one spider just opened up the space for a new one to take its place – the definition of senseless killing.

A little research proved that spiders play an important role in controlling pest insects, like mosquitoes and flies, and even eat other spiders. Spiders might leave a nasty bite if they feel threatened, but we are actually prey to mosquitoes who carry a whole host of infectious diseases to us and our pets. And for any bird people out there, they are a favorite meal to many species of birds.

My grandpa dismissed my experiment with one word – pesticides. And it’s true, you won’t find an insect in his yard. But as insane as it may sound in this world where we turn to chemicals as a quick fix for any problem, I’ll take my chances with the bugs. We’ve survived them for hundreds of thousands of years, the jury’s still out on how we’ll fare in an environment saturated with chemicals.

**Note: Obviously if black widows are setting up their homes right where your children play, like on their play equipment, it is a good idea to remove them relocate them in a less-trafficked area.

Sources and further reading