July 15, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Giant black widow spider & ant come eye-to-eye: surprising result

One of my hobbies is gardening, which helps keeps one’s sanity amongst all the grant writing, etc. However, I have a tough time leaving the science behind when I go out into the garden so sometimes I give in and go all science nerd in the garden. I’ve been doing a series on my blog of occasional posts that I call The Scientist in the Garden. Recently when I went out in the garden with my iPhone equipped with a zoom lens (photography being another hobby) I found a black widow spider.

I found it under a rock I tilted up(which I gently placed back down after the ensuing drama). The rock was soon crawling with about 1,000 caffeinated ants and one huge black spider. As the spider twirled on a single strand of short silk from the small boulder, I could see the red patch on its underside to go with the deep black, shiny body. I thought, ‘Isn’t that a black widow (Latrodectus mactans)?’Ant crawls right up to Black Widow Spider

OK, I thought, I’m not getting bitten but can I get a photo?

I snapped pic after pic, which was hard as the ants rapidly started crawling up my arm and there was a black widow spider now crawling on the rock about an inch from my hand holding the iPhone.

A few pics turned out OK and in one of them (I was surprised to see as I tried my best to watch them through the screen) that one ant crawled right up to the black widow that dwarfed it. Look at the spider’s fang is bigger than the ant’s head…that ant was between a rock and a black widow.

I may be anthropomorphizing here, but it really seemed like they looked each other up and down….then what happened?

Spider destroys ant? Nope.

Hundreds of ants attack the spider? Nope.

The ant turned around and left unharmed. You can see two sequential pics above. I wish they were slightly more in focus, but they are interesting especially with the sun shining on these guys.

Why the unscathed escape for the ant?

Maybe black widows know ants task like bitter crud (think formic acid)? I don’t know, but I consider that one lucky ant. Maybe the spider was lucky too. Even 100 small ants could probably take it out.

What was going through their minds?

For me as a human, going through my mind was again I don’t want to get bitten and I’m not a fan of dozens of ants dancing on my arm moving rapidly upwards.

Black widow bites can rarely be fatal, but apparently they are extremely painful. It’s cool that spider and other venoms are the subject of a lot of medical research.

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