We Are Not Alone

By: Derick Dallas


Great, we have another UFO conspiracy nut in Linthicum – queue The X-Files theme now - not quite. The visitors I speak of are living amongst us already. Some probably long before homo sapiens ever walked the earth. Some we notice, some we may not. Some live with us every day. At least in my house, unfortunately for my wife, Kelly. These denizens are of the six and eight-legged varieties. Most are harmless and some can even be beneficial. Some are considered pests. Some are quite nasty.

As most boys growing up we had a common curiosity with the creatures we spied in the air, on the ground, and those that were hidden. Most, as we get older, grow out of this interest. Then some of us, such as myself, still harbor this curiosity. I was curious enough to the point of considering a career in insects. I enrolled in classes of Entomology, Zoology, Microbiology, and Macrobiology. I still on occasion use my childhood microscope. When considering a career, thoughts of spending my time in deserts and rainforests, contracting rare diseases, and naming an insect after myself didn’t really push my desire in that direction. So I am an amateur at best.

Let’s start with the ones that we find in our homes. The Long Bodied Cellar Spider (Pholcus phalangioide) is an extremely long legged, small tannish to yellow bodied spider that you can usually find living in the corners anywhere in your home. When you do find them you will usually find the carcasses of its victims below its web first. In my house it is mostly ants and the occasional pill bug or as its also known, a roly polie. They will usually spend their entire lives living in that corner if undisturbed. When threated they will vibrate their web making it sometimes hard to see them. They are extremely harmless.

Also living in corners can be another more threatening looking spider. For someone who has studied spiders this one can still fool you. The False Black Widow (Steatoda grossa) is a small black or dark brown spider you will commonly find in your home and outdoor structures. It likes to have a hiding spot and will present itself when it detects prey. It is almost similar in size to the Black Widow but has a more oval abdomen and lacks the noticeable red hourglass markings that her sister possesses. They can live up to six years and unfortunately can still give a painful bite, although rarely severe.

You will also find in your home a small brown oblong beetle called a Click Beetle (family Elateridae). When the beetle is touched, picked up, or threatened, it falls on its back and plays dead. It then will sometimes bend its head and thorax forward, hooking a spine into a notch on the abdomen. When the spine is released, it makes a click, and the beetle hurls itself into the air. The picture I included is an actual beetle of the same family I found in my back yard.  Although it’s common name is Eastern-Eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus). It is much larger at about two inches. Neither of these bugs wish to be in your house and are harmless.  They eat mostly dying and dried vegetation.

Another insect we all find, especially in this time of year, is the Woolly Bear Caterpillar (Pyrrharctia Isabella). Its colors will vary greatly from all black, bright rust, or a banding of both colors. This leads to the myth that they are predictors of our winter weather to come. You are better with reading the Farmer’s Almanac for your weather predictions. If you search hard, you will find multiple variations of it’s coloring through-out the same fall season. After they hibernate they will transform themselves into an Isabella Tiger Moth. Their color will be mostly a pale orange with some dark spots. On occasion some species of the caterpillar will transform themselves into a Giant Leopard Moth. If you are lucky to discover one of these creatures, they are quite beautiful. Mostly white with black circles and spots on their wings. The wings can hide a bright reddish-black body. A true treasure.

I’ve saved our nastiest for last. These two creatures of the dark are truly dangerous. One more so than the other. Both can inflict pain and agony upon the recipients of their bite. Both like to hide in dark places such as work gloves, garden gloves, and yard shoes left out on our porches. So when putting on these items shake, bang, slap, or scrunch them up really well.

Let us start with the Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa). Some experts will say that these predators of the dark are not native to Maryland. They are mostly found in our southern mid-western states. I can tell you from a personal experience that landed me in the ER that “They’re here”. They are thin legged and small bodied. Roughly the size of a quarter. They can be mistaken for many of our harmless Funnel Weaver spiders. The Brown Recluse has only six eyes not eight. Upon closer inspection (while deceased) you can usually see a violin shaped marking on the back of its cephalothorax. This gives them the nickname “fiddle back spider”. My assassin had hidden itself in my yard work overalls. It had bitten me twice. One bite was a defensive bite. The other bite, on my inner thigh, was the bite where I was “dosed”. Upon discovery of my bites I thought it was that pesky mosquito. The first bite vanished without fanfare. The “dosed” bite progressively grew worse to where Neosporin was not working. I developed a fever and needed professional medical attention for my wound. The spiders venom is considered hemotoxic. This disrupts blood clotting by destroying red blood cells and causes skin deterioration.  A pesky little fella huh?

Now for our most sinister looking Md resident but not nearly as dangerous. The Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans). This little lady we speak of lives on almost every continent except Antarctica. She is pitch black with the ever noticeable bright red hourglass marking on the underside of her abdomen. She is about the size of a nickel to a quarter. It has always been speculated that her common name was derived from the act of consuming the male species after mating. This mostly happens because all spiders are cannibalistic. The male of the species is much, much, smaller and unfortunately much slower. So who’s hungry?! Her venom is a potent neurotoxin. Her bite can cause pain in the chest and abdomen, sweating, fever, vomiting, and extreme pain at the bites site. A bite from the Black Widow is rarely deadly. Allergic reactions and/or multiple bites are where occurrences have proven fatal.  It is important to remember that if you believe you have been bitten by either spider, you should seek medical attention.  Factors such as, age, health, and bite location could seriously impact your body’s reaction to the toxins.  Make sure to use caution this autumn season when performing leaf cleanup, tidying up the shed, retrieving firewood from the pile, and even moving rocks and garden edging.

So to borrow some wisdom from the iconic horror king Vincent Price on Alice Cooper’s song “The Black Widow” – “…If I may put forward a slice of personal philosophy, I feel that man has ruled this world as a stumbling demented child-king long enough! And as his empire crumbles, my precious Black Widow shall rise as his most fitting successor!”