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Fall Fund Drive

Decline of the Black Widow?

Hello everyone...

If anybody here grew up in the southwest during the 70's and 80's, you may remember how plentiful black widows were in every backyard, under every pile of wood, in every shed, etc. I caught them all the time. I was the neighborhood spider kid, and many of the other mothers would often call my grandmother to have me come over to "evict" a spider found in their house... and would always do with care, resisting the frequent requests to simply smash them.

But over the years, I noticed how scarce black widows have become... and when I do see them, they are rarely the plump, dark widows of old. However, the cellar spiders, usually referred to as "daddy longlegs," are everywhere. They spin similar webs (although without the strength), and behave the same way by hanging upside down and waiting out in the open for their prey. Differences are that they aren't as nocturnal as the black widow and they often live in much closer proximity to each other, almost appearing to me communal and sharing the same web.

I was shocked last night to find my cats had discovered a healthy female black widow in the upper corner of my backyard door last night, with a male nearby waiting for the right moment. She was the first widow of her size I had seen in years. I relocated her to a more convenient location for both of us, and the male took off on his own soon after. But I began looking around in my backyard, where twenty years ago at this time of year would have been a haven of black widows... yet I did not find a single other widow anywhere. But there were tons of the cellar spiders and webs which a run of my finger determined none belonged to a black widow.

Does anybody else see this decline of widows and the rise of cellars? One advantage they have was shown in a video I found of a cellar spider easily subduing a black widow thanks to it's much longer legs. I have thought that the climate change we have experienced in much of the southwest with less rain and higher temperatures may also give the cellar spiders some favor.

Any other thoughts or knowledge on this?

Not happening in my yard
I've been in Albuquerque for about 35 years. The black widows have always been common in the yard and still are. The cellar spiders have always been frequent indoors and still are. Although the climate has gotten drier in recent years, I have not seen any obvious arthropod shifts. I UV light in the back yard every night, and am doing a little taxonomic study for the museum where I volunteer. I get about 3000 specimens (of everything- moths beetles flies etc) per night, which looks a lot like it did 25 years ago.

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