Winter Widow

The story begins with a fruit smoothie. Smoothies have become a morning ritual in our household. I cut the pineapple. Brenda peels the banana and plucks grapes from a bunch purchased from our local supermarket. Living in Northern Ontario we are used to having Costa Rica as a source for pineapples and California for grapes.

Western black widow spider (Latrodectus Hesperus) Hitchhiker specimen in a bunch of grapes.

Brenda is a big fan of spiders and snakes but she does not like surprises. Summer shrieks in the garden tell me she has encountered a snake- usually a garter snake. We have no venomous snakes in Northern Ontario. As I was standing by the patio door window, observing our bird feeder, I again heard one of those familiar summer shrieks. This time it was because she spotted a black widow spider hiding in the grapes.

Western black widow spider (Latrodectus Hesperus) Hitchhiker specimen in a bunch of grapes.

Black widows are easy to identify, with their distinctive red hourglass patterns on their abdomens of the females. This one was still alive, having spent the last couple of weeks in refrigeration. And of course, she is highly venomous. Bug identified her from my description as likely to be a Western black widow Latrodectus Hesperus.

Western black widow spider (Latrodectus Hesperus) Hitchhiker specimen in a bunch of grapes.

I called our local science center who said they could not take her and advised me to contact Health Canada instead. But I then decided to go it alone and I set up a small plastic enclosure after doing some research on the internet. This article seemed to be just what I needed I drilled a hole in a small block of wood, inserted a twig snipped from a bush, put sand in the bottom of the plastic cage and added a small sponge soaked with water. In went the spider. Shortly she began constructing a web in the twig and was later observed resting comfortably on the twig.

Western black widow spider (Latrodectus Hesperus) Female resting on her web
Western black widow spider (Latrodectus Hesperus) Female resting on her web

What to feed her? A friend suggested crickets and sure enough the local pet food store informed me they had small crickets for sale at 0.20 each. The author of the on-line article suggested the same thing. In went the crickets and a day later we discovered she had successfully hunted one of them.

Western black widow spider (Latrodectus Hesperus) Female feeding on captured cricket
Western black widow spider (Latrodectus Hesperus) Female in web with captured cricket

Of course, my main motive in this exercise is to try and obtain photos of the spider. Coincidentally I had recently ordered the Venus Optics twin macro flash system from B&H to pair with my Laowa 100 mm macro lens from Venus Optics . I also use Nikon’s 105 mm micro, often combined with the Nikon TC 14 teleconverter. The dual flash system worked well with this lens also.

Western black widow spider (Latrodectus Hesperus) Female resting on her web after feeding

I discovered that I was able to photograph the spider in her classic web poses without having to disturb her by trying to lift the block of wood/twig (likely with tongs) out of her pen. This was a real bonus. Further, I found I could use my tripod for better stability, with the spider enclosure resting on our kitchen counter. The flashes do a very nice job and the backgrounds are unobtrusive. I tried using a simple tracing paper diffuser solution recommended by a macro photographer, found on YouTube Another diffuser solution is offered in this YouTube video This is a bit more labour intensive but will be more likely to be a more practical outdoors lighting solution for small animals in the garden. For now this ‘winter widow’ will be my main macro subject.

About Dawns _Images
I (Don Johnston) am a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Lively, Northern Ontario. My work is represented by All Canada Photos (Victoria), agefotostock (Spain), Interphoto (Germany), PhotoEdit (USA) and Alamy (England). I am widely published in books, magazines, calendars as well as advertising media and decor. My personal stock photography website has over 10 000 images in galleries plus a search feature. Like many other nature photographers I am self-taught beginning with film in the 1980s and continuing through the 21st century with digital. I taught high school biology for thirty years, retiring in 2003 to pursue photography full time.

One Response to Winter Widow

  1. Fabulous set of images Don! What a great find 🙂

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