Saturday, September 11, 2010

Spider Showdown -- Photographer vs. Arachnid

It was very early in the morning and the sky was just getting light.  I had been hiding in the office, staring across my desk at Bagman and Butler.   Finally Bagman got tired of teasing me by singing "The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout" song.   He humphed and stood up angrily. 

BAGMAN (standing up angrily): “What kind of wimpy nature photographer are you anyway!  Do your photographic duty!  Get out there, take a picture of the stupid bug, then kill it!”

BUTLER: “It’s not a bug. It’s a black widow.”

BAGMAN: “Widow, shmidow!  Mark is still bigger, smarter, and more dangerous than any bug. At least he is bigger and more dangerous. (pause) Well, at least he's bigger.”

After carefully weighing the consequence between being bitten by a black widow and feeling like a wimp, I got the camera and headed out to the garage. I had concluded that Aragog came out at night (comforting thought) and if I was going to shoot her, this was the best time.

And there she was! 

Hiding behind the car, I adjusted the bounce flash and fiddled with camera settings and prepared to move out…

BUTLER: “By the way, Mark, did you ever stop to consider that the egg sack containing up to 200 spider eggs might have hatched in the meantime and that black widows like dark secluded places such as, maybe, the underside of the car you were hiding behind?”

Thankfully, I had not considered that possibility. Therefore, I was able to muster my courage and skulk boldly toward the corner where Aragog sat waiting.

BUTLER: “Impossible! How do you skulk boldly?”

You had to be there! Walking toward a black widow in semi-darkness with a camera can only be done by skulking boldly. In any case, I was soon in range, took careful aim, and the silence was shattered by a massive click.

Damn autofocus!  Crisp focus on the board, however.

My Nikon can do almost everything but figure out what, exactly, I’m trying to shoot! Now I panic again because I’m sure the flash has sent Aragog running again.  And I can’t see if she is running away from me or AT ME,  because the flash may not have blinded the spider, but it blinded me. But as I slowly regain night vision, I discover she is just sitting there, grinning and cackling in her teeny tiny witch voice. So I try again. Same result. I try to remember where the autofocus lock button is but I can’t remember and it is too dark to see it. 

So I try manual focus.

But of course, as I expected, my human ability to focus disappeared long ago. Amazingly, she is still there, so I finally give up and just start blasting away, zooming in and out, praying that the Nikon’s autofocus will finally discover and focus on the spider by random luck.

Flashes and clicks fill the garage by the dawn’s early light.   I'm loudly singing a deranged anthem: "By the strobe light's red glare!  The clicks bursting in air!  Gave proof throught the night that Aragog was still there!"   Until, finally, my wife pokes her head out the door and says, “Have you got rid of that spider yet?”

“Almost,” I moan bleakly.

But later, after deleting 157 perfectly focused shots of the floor boards and wall cracks, the Nikon gives me one shot where it somehow, purely by accident, stayed focused on Aragog.

And then I realize why she hadn’t moved. Because love is blind and her next lover moving close to her, bringing flowers and hoping for the moment to be right for consummation. Not that he would live long enough to brag about it to his buddies. But at least he would provide her with another egg sack of 200 more eggs. 

Two ... hundred ... more ... eggs. 

Maybe it was time for me to exercise whatever killer instinct I still  retain.

Tomorrow there must be no more Mister Nice Guy.


  1. 157 shots were worth it - that's a great portrait, finally!
    Tomorrow? why tomorrow? You like her! That's it. All this dilly dallying about instead of going right for the Raid is because you _like_ her! You like that spiny, tingly feeling of danger, and know life will be dull again if you take that away.

  2. Now I'm confused because Tabor was right that the egg case was a brown widow...but this is pretty certainly a black widow. Two spiders? Interracial marriage in the arachnid world?

  3. Yay! You finally got the photo! (and a good one too). I'm with Nan... Get the RAID, right away!!!

  4. We have a spider expert in our family. Maybe I'll ask her to ID this arachnid of yours.

    Did you take a car trip to Florida recently?

    NanU is right: you like this spider and you are very curious about her. But it doesn't sound like Karen shares the fascination!

  5. I was just reading along thinking, get it, get it and all of a sudden I scrolled down and there she was. Scared me to death, as my little grand used to say. I agree with NanU, you are fascinated with the female and enjoy just teasing us. We are dealing with carpet beetles. Never heard of them before. Yuck. LOL

  6. Yikes its a black widow, see the red hour glass on it! Poisonous! so think of the grand kids! I was stung by a brown recluse and still have the scar on my arm...die spiddy die...oh sorry I get carried away with the thought of spiders meeting doom...

  7. There she is, the Red Back of my youth! Shudder!I swear deep within every man there lurks a primeval hunter. He wasn't hidden very deep in my brothers and you remind me of them, yelling and shrieking with a mixture of terror and delight as they rousted out the enemy. My gran could tell by the pitch of their shrieks what their quarry was, whether she should go and despatch the beast or leave them to it. She would have seen your visitor off quick smart. But then she wasn't a photographer and story-teller. (Waiting for the finale!)

  8. It's a dastardly deed, but you must do it for your grandbabies! Will you then be on the hunt for egg sacks?

  9. I am completely obsessed with your quest. HOW HILARIOUS! I will tune in again tomorrow. I LOVED your song. This blog is right up my alley!

  10. Actually I have read that is it not unusual for brown widows to become dark as they age. This may be a granny widow!

  11. I think this is a brown widow. It has an orange hour glass like that. We have them around here on the central Gulf Coast of Florida. Had never seen them before 2004. After Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne we saw them everywhere. Local naturalists said they blew in on the high winds from South Florida where they were very prevalent. The egg sac you posted is definitely that of a Brown Widow.

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