National Geographic : 1971 Aug
ritual helps control the tarantula population -a necessity even with a creature so seldom harmful to man. Even the notorious black widow, Latro dectus, of world-girdling range, accounts for surprisingly few human fatalities. Of 1,000 cases of black-widow bite reported in the United States each year, only four or five are fatal. Black-widow venom-for which an antivenin was developed 25 years ago-can produce such symptoms as chills, nausea, pain, hypertension, breathing difficulties, and muscle cramps. Trash Heaps Are Home to Deadly Widows In the company of Lorin Honetschlager, an animal collector who some years earlier had helped me find scorpions,* I learned at first hand much of what I know of black widows. Last summer, sitting in the kitchen of his suburban home near Phoenix, Arizona, Lorin laughed when I told him I thought Latro dectus was a scarce spider. "Widows?" he laughed. "Put on your hat, man. In three minutes I'll show you hundreds." We walked down the street to the backyard of an abandoned house where a trash heap had accumulated. Amid waste paper, tin cans, and rotting lumber, we found a tangle of untidily strung webs. Each had a central tube-shaped netting harboring a shiny black eight-legger with a pea-size abdomen marked underneath with the scarlet figure of an hour glass (pages 192-3). Alleged fiend of the spider world and undoubtedly armed with a powerful poison, Latrodectus will bite, Lorin insisted, only when excessively provoked-that is, when *See in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, "Scorpions: Living Fossils of the Sands," by Paul A. Zahl, March 1968. 209 GENUSLYCOSA,8 TIMES LIFE-SIZE,WORLDWIDE;BY F. TURNERREUTER() N.G.S.