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Western black widow spider (Latrodectus hesperus)
The western black widow spider (Latrodectus hesperus) is a cobweb weaver best known for its highly potent neurotoxic venomous bite. Despite the notoriety, however, I have always found this species to be quite timid, quickly retreating at the slightest disturbance. As with most spiders, it is only known to bite humans as a last resort, such as while being inadvertently squeezed. Together with the brown widow (L. geometricus), these two species are the only spiders with established populations in California whose venom is of medical concern.
Female western black widow spider (Latrodectus hesperus) with a honey bee as prey. Solano County, California.
This black widow's tangle web might just look like a chaotic mess to humans, but black widow silk is actually stronger than steel and is being studied for potential medical and military applications. San Joaquin County, California.
Juvenile female black widows such as this specimen still have some of the more ornate markings of their male counterparts. Yolo County, California.
Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus), mature female in an atypical vertical orientation. Yolo County, California.
Male western black widows such as this specimen are much smaller and more ornately marked than their mature female counterparts. Mature males look similar to immature females, but can be differentiated by their enlarged pedipalps (the dark appendages by the spider's "head"). Males pose no threat to humans. Yolo County, California.
Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus), female with hints of some of her immature markings. Yolo County, California.
Mature female black widow setting a snare line (an especially sticky length of web used to catch prey). Also worth noting is the shape of this spider's signature red hourglass marking; sometimes separation occurs after a specimen molts several times. Yolo County, California.
While at rest in the web, the western black widow spider almost always positions itself ventral side up, clearly displaying its red hourglass warning. Yolo County, California.
Next Spider: Goldenrod crab spider (Misumena vatia)
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All pictures copyright Timothy Boomer. All rights reserved worldwide.