Thursday, June 24, 2010

Concerning Various Animal Pests


Last night, after work, I bought a half wine barrel, with the idea of turning it into a mini-pond from which our bees could drink. Urban and suburban beekeepers are advised to provide a consistent source of water for the bees. Neglecting to do this will send the bees out foraging, and they're likely to end up drinking out of your neighbor's dogs' dishes, or their swimming pools.

This is not a good way to endear one's self to one's neighbors, or to inspire kind thoughts about one's backyard hives.

So, I was pretty excited to find a barrel with a pond-liner for sale -- cheap! -- on Craigslist. The owners were selling it because they were moving to India, and also because they were tired of having their local raccoons eat all the fish they had in the barrel. We haven't seen any raccoons in our yard, and I hadn't given much thought to fish. However, the seller did mention that Alameda County will deliver free mosquito-eating fish to your door, as part of their campaign against West Nile Virus.

The seller and I carried the large and heavy barrel out to my car, and then I headed off to a lovely evening of needlework. I was pretty tired when I got home, and so I left the barrel in the car overnight, figuring that I'd unload it when I got home from work, the next day. Nobody was likely to steal a barrel out of my car. And anyway, I wanted to carry it in daylight.

So, when I got home from work today, I hauled the liner and the barrel out of my car. I was trying to figure out how to lift the barrel, and chatting with a band of roving Mormons, when I noticed the Black Widow Spider in the back of my car. All politeness evaporated, and I told the church ladies that I really, really didn't have time to talk. Would they please leave their brochures on my porch, and vamoose, immediately?

I had my hands full with the task of not freaking out. The spider was dead. Sure. But what about that gigantic egg sac on the bottom of the barrel? And what about all of her sisters, who were surely camped out under the seats of the car, slavering for human ankles? There are no spiders more frightening than the spiders in one's imagination. My car was crawling with just those spiders.

I'm really not sure what to do, now.

Clearly, a huge vacuuming party is on the schedule. But do I want to vacuum, or can I -- in clear conscience -- take the car to the carwash and pay someone to vacuum away my phantom spiders? Do I admit to spiders, and hope that they'll be willing to do the work, or keep my mouth shut and leave a huge tip?

And what do I do with the egg sac? I'm just weird enough of a nature-lover that I don't want to kill the baby spiders. I believe that they have a place in the ecosystem. However, I'm not convinced that their particular place in the ecosystem should be my back yard. For now, the barrel sits in the driveway, blocking my car.

And just to add to the litany of animals that people consider pests, Robb had our first encounter with a backyard raccoon last night. The outdoor cats and Linguine were freaking out. Robb was worried about our bees. And the raccoon refused to be flustered. It sat in the middle of our path, obliviously grooming, and probably dreaming of the taste of mosquito-fish.

I love nature. I really do. But sometimes I like a bit of distance between myself and nature.

Update: After further investigation,
I now think that this may be Steatoda grossa,
the False Black Widow.
This spider is an European invader,
frequently mistaken for the Black Widow.


Anonymous said...

o-m-g!!! I'd have had a breakdown even if it was dead. And I'd be just as worried about the coming family and probably stick them in a zip bag & drop them off in the nearest highway greenery along the road-far from my home! You're a brave one!

Raccoons can be the most annoying pests. They went through our garbage last night and there's trash & junk all over our yard today. I wonder who sent him the memo about you bringing in water...and possible fish!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Robb: "I'm thinking that the raccoon might explain the back yard pork chop bones."

Lisa: "Laughs hysterically."

Robb: "Because I'm thinking that these cats are not big on raiding garbage cans."

gollygee said...

It would probably be kind of nasty, but I wonder if there's some sort of flea bomb for black widows that you could put in your car? Calling an exterminator for your car seems a little excessive. :D Check the internet though, maybe there's some sort of natural solution? Good luck!!! Hugs!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

My friend Meg says that the spider probably ate all her sisters, a long time ago.

But why oh why was I born with the "kill no living creatures" gene? It's such a nuisance being so freaking tender hearted.

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Black widow's are part of life around here. They're in the woodpiles, tucked into the nooks and crannies around the garden, and for a while, we had one stalking the cat's water dish. I used to flip out, but in recent years, I've come to realize they're generally very placid, if you don't go out of your way to aggravate them. Although, I'm not entirely convinced the spider in your photo is black widow...the markings don't look quite right, at least not for the ones I've seen here. But it could be a between-molt...and those are rather tricky to ID.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

The shape, the size, the sheen, the colorful elbows...lacking a spider book, I'll say that it's an oddly marked widow. And that giant egg-sac looks correct.

What else has this form?

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Okay, I did some poking around online, and it looks like this may be Steatoda grossa, the False Black Widow. A European invasive, who actually seems to be throwing off the populations of Black Widows.

Verrrrrrrry similar in form! And Widows do vary widely in color and marking...

knitica said...

Sounds like a chance to call Car Talk. YOu have both the technical question of how to be absolutely sure that no spiders will remain, and the moral questions of whether or not to tell those doing the removing *what* they are removing and whether the spiders can be removed humanely.

ellen said...

I'd think a good vacuuming would do the job - although you might just want to do it yourself so you wouldn't wonder if all the crevices had been addressed. I actually don't mind black widow spiders so much - I only ever see them outside where they belong, unlike the brown recluse so common here that seems to prefer an indoor sort of life. The raccoon is likely to be a more enduring problem. Borrow a big dog. Good Luck either way.

Kay/The Little Foxes said...

I have to agree with your farm friends who have the cool chicken profile pic. We have black widows like crazy in our pumpkin fields. I just make sure the kids and I have gloves when we are picking up pumpkins and we've never been bothered. I don't even look for them anymore.
But that is the reason we don't have a "pick your own pumpkin from the field" day..... ;-))
However, I would probably be vacuuming my car - those imaginary spiders can make one crazy ;-))
I hope it's just the false black widow after all!!!

Christine said...

Yikes, that is just all kinds of ick! But you did just give me a new idea on how to scare away people I don't want to talk to!
As for raccoons, we have a metal water trough that we keep fish in and have equipped it with a hefty electric fence. It allows the bees to stop and sip, but keeps the raccoons away.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, there are two things in my yard I kill (and I do have a slight twinge each time from my conscience); black widows and European black rats.
The black widows run wild on my fence - I think they like the hot Walnut Creek weather. I am afraid the kids will climb the fence and accidentally grab a spider in her daytime hiding place. I go out at night with a flashlight and Raid. I know, I know. But I do it anyway.
The rats, I poison. They get into my compost. We found a baby once, and I took it to Lindsey, and they told me it was ok to kill them, since they are invasive. Of course that means I'm cleaning up dead rats every so often.
Now, raccoons - that's another matter. We have them here every night - and we shut our cat in the garage overnight to protect her. Several of our neighbors have chickens and ducks, and have had to reinforce cages with actual locks, because the raccoons can open the latches. Argh!

Tarte N Tires said...

Your Post made me want to run out and vacuum my car!! I had to scroll carefully reading between the images, while carefully keeping them off screen. You're ability of photographing such 'grossa'ness is alarmingly brave. I personally think I would end up doing what could only be thought of as a cross between a 5 year old tantrum and some variation of a rain dance... Heebie Jeebies.

swimmy44 said...

I totally agree with the Car Talk comment - Frick and Frack I'm sure have not gotten a call about a BW spider invasion yet! I was surprised to learn they are rampant around here when I got here in late '08. I now refrain from sticking my fingers into the holes in my retaining wall!


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