Kennywood, the stink bug slayer

Kennywood is a southern black widow (Lactrodectus mactans) I caught in Jacksonville, NC in July 2016. She was immature when I caught her, a LOT smaller and with white stripes on her abdomen in addition to the hour glass. The white faded after subsequent molts and now she’s full grown at ~10mm.

Kennywood was named by a 10 year old girl at a summer camp I was leading. She said, “You should name her Kennywood after the Black Widow ride at Kennywood.” For those of you who don’t know about Pittsburgh, Kennywood Park is the local amusement park. The Black Widow is an awesome ride, one of my favorites, so I thought she had a great suggestion. It always bothered me, however, that the ride’s logo features a black widow with the hour glass on the TOP of it’s abdomen instead of the ventral side. AND, the widow is sitting in an orb web (widows don’t make those kinds of webs). It’s all wrong, but like I said, it’s probably the best ride in the park!

Kennywood, the spider, has been an interesting and beautiful spider to observe. She is kept in a Clancy’s Pretzel Sticks container with some twigs to attach her scrappy web and a piece of ripped toilet paper roll  for her to hide in. Of course, she prefers to be right at the top near the lid. In her previous container, she hid at the bottom under a fake plant leaf and would scramble under it when I would remove the lid to feed her. Sometimes, she wouldn’t scramble and would stand her ground making “swelling” motions. It’s like she would tighten her legs up and then expand them and she did it slowly, like breathing. I assume it is some kind of warning behavior. It is pretty sinister.

This leads me to the feeding part, and the title of this post – she readily eats stink bugs. Along with various house flies and crickets, stink bugs have probably made up most of her diet. I get a lot of stink bugs where I live so when one dive bombs me, I throw it in her container. She wraps it up with no reaction whatsoever to any stink it may spew off as a last resort. Every other month, I have to clean out her container…because it stinks.

Kennywood is one of my favorite specimens and gets a lot of attention at presentations simply because of her highly venomous reputation and because we don’t have widows in urban Western PA. Some kids who have never seen a live black widow comment on how small she is, although widows are the largest spiders in the Theridiidae family (AKA cobweb or comb-footed spiders). I guess widows aren’t big enough to rival a child’s imagination! People are also amazed at how chill she is, even with the lid off. It’s really cool to be able to quell some of the irrational fears that are associated with spiders, even the “wicked” ones.

 

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