Meet the Brown Widow: A Public Service Announcement

If asked, most people can name two spiders which people should be wary of in the Southeast United States. They are the black widow spider and the brown recluse. The black widow uses a nuerotoxin-based venom while the brown recluse uses a necrotic-based venom which can breaks down body tissues. While even Wikipedia states that black widows and brown recluse spiders are the two spiders with “medically significant” venom in North America, there is, at least, one more and it is becoming more common here in South Carolina. It is the Brown Widow spider.

Brown Widow  The abdomen of the spider can vary greatly. The black and brown pattern of the legs tends to be consistent.

Brown Widow
The abdomen of the spider can vary greatly. The black and brown pattern of the legs tends to be consistent.

I have not seen a black widow in a few years, but I have been finding the brown widow. In fact, I know that if I want to find one, all I have to do is look and there is a good chance I’ll be greeted with success. I recently found a couple around my yard including one with an egg sac in our children’s sandbox.

The Brown Widow can be a little more challenging to identify than a Black Widow. They are seemingly uncharacteristic when looking at them from above. They are generally one of several variations of brown with legs that have a brown/tan and black pattern Furthermore, they have several variations of abdominal markings meaning they don’t all look the same.

Egg Sac  The Brown Widow spider is easily identified by its unique eggs sac. I found this one in my children's sandbox with the spider (not pictured)

Egg Sac
The Brown Widow spider is easily identified by its unique eggs sac. I found this one in my children's sandbox with the spider (not pictured)

However, there are two tell-tale signs of a Brown Widow. First, they have the hourglass marking on their underside, like the Black Widow. This is hard to see unless you’ve killed the spider and can turn it over. Additionally, the marking is not red, it is usually orange or yellow. Second, is their egg sac. Unlike many spider egg sacs which are smooth, including the Black Widow, the egg sac of the Brown Widow is decorated with spike features.

While all “widow” spiders rightfully incite a level of healthy fear and caution, they are generally not very aggressive. They would rather retreat than take on an adversary. Bites generally occur when the spider is accidentally pressed against the skin and they have nowhere to retreat. Brown Widows are especially unaggressive in that they generally won’t even defend their web unlike the Black Widow. Researchers, at the University of Florida state that their venom is about twice as potent of the Black Widow’s. However, they inject less and, again, are even less aggressive. Brown Widow bites do not tend to be as dangerous as that of the Black Widow and generally look like a regular spider bite in that it may be a little tender and turn red at the bite site.

The Brown Widow appears to have starting spreading in the United States around the year 2000. It is on a list of invasive species according to University of California Riverside’s Center for Invasive Species. South Carolina appears to be near the northern limit of the spider’s range so far. Scientists are not sure if it derived from Africa or South America.

Generally speaking, spiders are a common and much-needed piece of the natural ecosystem. The eat a lot of insects that would otherwise become more bothersome to humans. They also become food for lots of other animals as well. They are not enemies. They have a place and purpose.

It is important to use common sense when dealing with wildlife. Brown Widow spiders are becoming more common and inhabit the same areas that a Black Widow might. They like dry, secluded and hidden areas. Be sure to check outdoor play areas, pots that have been sitting, cluttered areas in the garage or outdoors before jumping right in. You know what they say about an ounce of prevention.

Below are a couple of links you may find helpful regarding Brown Widow spiders.


Meet the Ravenel Stinkhorn - A Divine Stench

Something you may not know about me is that I’m an amateur mycologist. That’s probably a bit exaggerated, but I love to find and identify mushrooms. I do it enough that people closer to me will occasionally send me pictures of mushrooms they find with the hopes that I can identify it for them.

The Ravenel Stinkhorn uses a rancid slime coat to attract flies and similar insects who will become unwittingly spread its spores to other places.

The Ravenel Stinkhorn uses a rancid slime coat to attract flies and similar insects who will become unwittingly spread its spores to other places.

Recently, I got a text message from a friend with a picture of the mushroom seen here. I immediately recognized it, though I had never personally found one. However, there are often look-alikes and as I was not personally familiar with this shroom, I decided to look it up and confirm that my buddy had, indeed, found a Ravenel’s Stinkhorn (phallus ravenelli).

When you see this stinkhorn, you’ll understand how it came about to get its Latin name. I’ll leave that part up for you to figure out. However, this particular mushroom has a pale colored stem with an army-green slime coat on top. The stem seems to protrude through the slime coat creating a small hole at the top.

Stinkhorns, as a group, use a very interesting technique for reproduction. Mushrooms reproduce using spores. Your average mushroom produces spores on their gills beneath the cap which they release as a fine powder and can be blown around to other areas. However, stinkhorns get their name because they stink. They produce a “slime” that simply has a rancid, foul odor. It can easily be equated to a rotting animal carcass. This makes sense when you consider the consequence. Insects, such as flies, which are attracted to such scents for a variety of reasons, will find their way to the stinkhorn and after landing on the mushroom, pick up the spores as they step through the slime coating. Then the insect flies away and will spread the spores wherever they land next.

This is pretty cool but it also has life lessons in it. One of my biggest reasons for enjoying the outdoors is that nature retains the fingerprint of God. There is wisdom in every way of nature as it was derived from the Creator. Psalm 19:1-The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

So, I consider the fly which helps the stinkhorn spread its spores. We are a lot like this fly and the stinkhorn is anything in which we give attention or passion. Everywhere we go and everyone and everything we interact with leaves something with us; their spores. We spread those impacts to others. As Christians, and as humans in general, we should be acutely aware of the spores that we allow into our lives. Some of these are easy to consider. We often point out the “big ones” from which we are usually separated such as drug and alcohol abuse. But consider the fly, once again. It does not know it is landing on a mushroom and spreading spores. It thought it found dinner or a place to lay its eggs. It transports the spores unwittingly. It is drawn in by a clever disguise.

We are not often drawn into sin blatantly.

The television we watch and the music we listen to leaves spores. It impacts our mind and our moods which we then take to others. The people we allow into our lives socially leave spores. The conversations we allow ourselves to be part of leave spores. The way we spend our free time does as well. All of these things leave an imprint on our character which impacts the way we impact our family, children, friends and acquaintances. Nothing is innocent in this regard. We ourselves are stinkhorns as well for everyone and everything we with which we interact.

The stinkhorn is not evil just as the entirety of the world around us is not evil. There are many people, places, conversations and hobbies that can have positive impacts and leave spores that we want to spread. The key is having an awareness of what we are stepping in and what we are spreading to everyone around us. Be careful where you land!

An Island on the Stono

...the branches of Live Oak trees that had been allowed to grow without intervention radiated from the trunks like malleable waves of energy that were simply moving too slow to be detected by the human eye; like a dream where you struggle to move. They bounced off the atoms in the air and the ground. The king of them all was easy to identify. I approached and admired the royal branches.

Read More

A Lady in the Desert

On this island were these plants with tall green stems and little white flowers that spiraled around the top of the stem like a staircase. I had seen this plant before, in my wildflower identification book and later confirmed that it was called “Lacelip Lady Tresses”.
What was especially interesting about this particular plant and the fact that I found it in an otherwise unassuming parking lot is that it is considered rare in South Carolina. In fact, in my identification book, it is considered a State Endangered species.

Read More